Nov 25, 2010 1:02pm
PIKE River coal mine is still not safe and it could take weeks to get bodies, says company.
A large reservoir of gas means there are risks of explosions "today, tomorrow or the next day," he said in Greymouth today.
The company is mobilising quickly to look at recovering the bodies of 29 miners - including two Australians - for their families, but this could take "weeks".
"We have to make certain decisions and have to make them quickly," Mr Whittall said.
Once the mine was safe, recovering the bodies could take a "couple of weeks or more or less", he said.
"This is not going to happen in the next couple of days," he said.
The men were trapped underground by an explosion on Friday afternoon and police believe there are no survivors following a second, larger explosion yesterday.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key flew into Greymouth today, and said his main priority was to speak to the miners' families.
"We are really trying to bring as much comfort as we can in the most trying of times. The nation is grieving alongside them," he said before heading to a midday meeting with families.
Tears and anger: Relatives learn all hope is gone
Key also wanted to personally thank everyone involved in the planned rescue attempt.
He said the recovery operation could employ a "number of different techniques", which could include bringing in equipment from Australia.
"It is natural that families would want bodies recovered so they can have some closure but that just can't happen until we are in a position to go into the mine," he told NZPA.
He was in discussions with Grey district mayor Tony Kokshoorn about holding a local memorial service and a national service would probably be held in Christchurch in early December, he said.
Earlier today he said he hoped the families would take some comfort in the knowledge the country was "sharing their pain".
"One thing that has shone through all of this bleakness has been the fact that New Zealand has rallied around and I think every New Zealander felt very deeply the news... that the second explosion had taken place and what that meant for the people inside the mine," he told TV1's Breakfast Show.
The 29 miners and contractors have not been heard of since an initial explosion on Friday afternoon.
After a second massive explosion at 2.37pm local time yesterday Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall returned from the mine to break the heart-breaking news to the families of the men that there were unlikely to have been any survivors.
Mr Key said he didn't know when the men's bodies would be recovered but a number of options were being explored.
"Of course, the most important thing at this point now is to stabilise the environment so it's safe for those rescue teams to go in and take the bodies out."
He said there was likely to be a commission of inquiry rather than a royal commission of inquiry, which was more suited to social issues such as genetic engineering.
"So look, at the end of the day here, we need answers to what happened at Pike River - clearly something's gone terribly wrong and it's now claimed the lives of 29 people."
Separate coronial, police and Labour Department inquiries would also be held.
Meanwhile, flags were flying at half-mast across New Zealand and in Australia today for the mine victims.
Queensland men Joshua Ufer, 25, and Willy Joynson, 49, were among the 29 miners who died.
A family spokesman for Mr Joynson's wife, Kim, said yesterday's terrible news would allow the family to finish a process they had already started.
"Kim, in the back of her mind, had already prepared herself for this," he said.
"She had had that setback. I don't know whether she had really begun grieving but once the finality came it was just bang, here it is."
The family were in the process of moving back to Australia, with Mr Joynson waiting until his children, Jonathan, 13, and Benjamin, 10, had finished the school term before he quit his job. Mr Joynson worked as a leading hand at Pike River.
The family of Josh Ufer, 25, gave no comment.
Pregnant partner Rachelle Weaver, who lives in Greymouth, was grieving with his mother Joanne, father Karl and sister Kymberley in the coastal township.
Mr Ufer's father also works in the mining industry and flew from China this week to be with his family.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has offered Australia's condolences to all those involved and told the Australian relatives: "We want you to understand that the nation is grieving with you at this dreadful and difficult time."