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Hopes fade for New Zealand miners

New Zealand's prime minister said hope is fading for two Britons and 27 other coal miners missing for four days underground after an explosion.

John Key said police were now planning for the possible loss of life following the massive blast in the mine, now swirling with toxic gases, and told parliament it was still too dangerous to enter the mine to find what had happened to the men.

He said he shared the families' frustration that a rescue team could not be sent in because of the toxic gas levels in the mine and said the miners were tough, resourceful and stoic men who looked after each other in the same way a father looked out for a son.

Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, and Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews, Fife, are among the group of 29 miners missing following Friday's blast.

Earlier, Superintendent Gary Knowles said it still remained too dangerous to send rescue teams into the damaged pit, more than three days after the explosion at the Pike River mine in Atarau on South Island.

It is believed that a build-up of methane caused the accident. The ongoing presence of high levels of the gas has so far thwarted attempts to send in rescue workers.

In a further blow, a remote-controlled robot sent into the mine has broken down. Authorities said they were hoping for more advanced equipment to be flown in from outside New Zealand to help the rescue effort.

Meanwhile, workers continued to use a diamond-tipped drill to bore through layers of hard rock to get closer to tunnels where some of the miners are thought to be trapped. Cameras and listening equipment will be lowered into the bore hole in a bid to give experts a clearer picture of conditions, and potentially pick up any signs of life.

The men, aged 17 to 62, are believed to be about 1.2 miles down the tunnel. Each miner carried 30 minutes of oxygen, and more fresh air was stored in the mine, along with food and water.

Officials said that provisions allow for several days of survival but having said on Sunday that police remained "optimistic", Monday's update was more downbeat. "I'm a realist," Supt Knowles said, adding: "With the passing of time, we are preparing for all options."

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