GREYMOUTH, New Zealand — Rescue teams were in full gear and ready to begin searching for 29 missing miners when toxic gas levels suddenly increased, touching off an explosion that dashed all hopes of a rescue, a lost miner's brother and police said Thursday.
Prime Minister John Key declared the disaster a national tragedy, and across New Zealand today flags flew at half-staff.
Wednesday's massive explosion deep inside the mine on New Zealand's South Island came five days after the men were caught underground by a similar blast and only hours after rescuers reported their first progress in the rescue attempt.
"She was all go," said Geoff Valli, whose brother Keith, 62, perished in the mine. "There was going to be more than one or two (rescuers involved)" in the rescue bid.
"They explained just how close they were to going in. It was bloody scary. It could have been so much worse," he told National Radio.