Recovering the bodies of 29 miners, including two Britons, presumed dead in the New Zealand mine tragedy may not start for months because of toxic gas levels, a British High Commissioner said.
Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, and Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews, were among the men missing after last Friday’s initial blast at the Pike River mine in Atarau on the country’s South Island. On Wednesday, police said the miners would not have survived the “horrific” second explosion, and rescue teams are “now in recovery mode”.
Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner to New Zealand, said she had met the parents of both the Scottish miners after Mr Campbell’s mother and father, Malcolm and Jane, flew in from Scotland.
Asked how the families were coping, Ms Treadell told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “As you will imagine emotions are high and run deep and people are fragile as a consequence of hopes being dashed … the second explosion meant that that was the reality. We couldn’t hold out hope for rescue and what we can hold out hope for now is recovery of the bodies.”
Speaking about retrieving the bodies of the Scottish miners, she said: “They (Mr Rodger and Mr Campbell’s parents) also understand the degree of difficulty in even achieving that possibility because – until the environment in the mine is stable and people can safely go in and therefore not risk the loss of further life – it may be weeks before we know whether or not that is possible and it may be months before it can be executed.
“So part of our conversation was what these scenarios might be and how to prepare for that eventuality, but knowing that between now and then, whether it’s the support from the local authorities, or the support that we can offer from our consular services at the British High Commission, that there are people there for them.”
Asked whether there was a degree of unhappiness and concern for the British relatives that a rescue attempt was not launched sooner, she said: “I have not personally detected that for myself … I wouldn’t like to say what it is they may feel inside their own hearts but it’s not something they showed to me in our conversations.
“I think they were very pragmatic. They had reconciled themselves as far as one can in these difficult circumstances to where they are at the moment. I think as they go through their own grieving, their emotions may change. We all have questions. They have questions, the local authorities have questions and only time will deliver the answers to those questions.”
Mr Campbell’s aunt Carole Cameron, who lives near New Gilston in Fife, told The Courier newspaper: “Malcolm was such a lovely, warm-hearted boy. You couldn’t ask for a better son. We were all so proud of him.” Mr Campbell had worked at the mine for two years and was due to marry fiancee Amanda Shields, 23, on December 18.
Speaking about Mr Campbell’s parents, she told the paper: “They are absolutely devastated. No mother or father should ever have to endure the loss of their child. It is indescribable, the suffering we are going through, and it will be 100-fold for them.”