This aerial photo taken on November 30, 2010 shows flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at the Pike River Coal mine near Greymouth on New Zealand's West Coast. New Zealand announced on November 29 a Royal Commission into the country's worst mining disaster for almost a century, as fire continued to rage in the pit where 29 miners perished. Prime Minister John Key said High Court judge Graham Panckhurst would lead the probe into the Pike River mine, where the miners were trapped by a November 19 explosion and confirmed dead when another blast hit five days later. AFP PHOTO
WELLINGTON, Dec 1, 2010 (AFP) - New Zealanders will hold two minutes' silence Thursday for 29 men killed in the country's worst mining disaster for almost a century, Prime Minister John Key said.
Key, who will lead tributes to the miners at a national memorial service on Thursday, said New Zealand was united in mourning after this month's disaster at the Pike River colliery.
“I hope all of New Zealand will join with those of us at the service and observe two minutes' silence at 2:00pm (0100 GMT),” he said.
“This tragedy has affected all of us and tomorrow is an opportunity to join together in grief.”The service, expected to draw about 7,000 people, will be held at Greymouth's Omoto racetrack, in the shadow of the Paparoa mountain range, where the mine is located.
The miners were trapped by a November 19 explosion of methane and confirmed dead when another blast hit five days later.
The victims included two Australians, two Britons and a South African and Key said representatives from those countries would attend the service.
The mine has been rocked by three blasts since the initial explosion, igniting coal in the pit and making it impossible for emergency crews to enter and retrieve remains entombed within.
Police said they hoped to deploy a specialist machine called a “gag unit” at the mine later Wednesday to extinguish the blaze.
The unit, a modified jet engine, uses water vapour and gases to purge oxygen from the mine, suffocating any possible ignition sources.
The disaster was the greatest loss of life at a New Zealand mine since 43 men died in an explosion at Huntly in September 1914.