GREYMOUTH, New Zealand — Police acknowledged for the first time Monday that some of the 29 miners trapped underground for three days by a gas explosion may not have survived, as toxic fumes continued to prevent rescuers from entering the tunnel.
Authorities expected to finish drilling a six-inch-wide (15-centimeter-wide) shaft into the mine tunnel later Monday to get a better idea of the air quality inside the mine in an area where miners were believed trapped by the Friday's blast. Tests every 30 minutes on areas currently accessible continued to indicate the air was too toxic for rescuers to enter.
"We still remain optimistic, we're still keeping an open mind," police superintendent Gary Knowles told reporters. "But we are planning for all outcomes, and as part of this process we're planning for the possible loss of life as a result of what's occurred underground."
Two workers stumbled out of the Pike River mine within hours of the explosion on Friday, but there has been no contact at all with the missing 29. A buildup of methane gas that was somehow ignited inside the mine is suspected as the cause, though officials say that won't be confirmed for days at least.