The Defence Force robot was "the bright spot" for West Coast residents waiting on the rescue of 29 trapped miners and news it broke down this morning was "a kick in the guts", the Grey District Mayor says.

Relatives of the miners were told this morning that the robot sent into the Pike River mine was not waterproofed and malfunctioned when water fell onto it.

Mayor Tony Kokshoorn told nzherald.co.nz news a robot was going into the mine had been a rare piece of positive news.

"We were hanging our hat on that. When the robot packed up and when they said they couldn't retrieve it I started losing hope at that point," he said.

"I'm only a lay person, my first thoughts were why didn't it have a bit of gladwrap over it.

"I thought this robot is going to go in and tell us the condition of the miners. But when they said the water had got in it was just demoralising."

Mr Kokshoorn said it was crucial to get another robot into the mine to assess the situation while toxic gases prevented rescuers from entering.

"If they can locate the miners with a robot and if those miners are alive, I think at that point in time it will be time to take some risks."

Tasman Area Police Commander Superintendent Gary Knowles told a media conference the robot was sent into the mine at 6am and he was informed at 8am it had broken down.

Reporters were told the robot had only got 550m into the mine when it malfunctioned.

"We will be speaking to the Defence Force this morning to establish whether it [the robot] got any visuals. Anything of a visual nature would only show us a clear tunnel because there was no men in that area."

Mr Knowles said rescuers were trying to get more advanced robots from Western Australia and America to deploy underground.

He said authorities were "pulling all strings" and the Royal New Zealand Air Force would fly in the Australian robot on a Hercules aircraft.

Mr Kokshoorn said he had spoken on the Australian breakfast show Sunrise where he appealed for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to "just please put it (the robot) on an airforce jet and bring it over to us".

"I've no doubt they (the Australian Government) will have pulled out every stop for us."

'Kick in the guts'

Earlier, Mr Kokshoorn said the breakdown of the robot had angered family members and made them question the rescue efforts at Pike River.

Hearing the high-tech defence force robot had short circuited after water from the ceiling dripped on it was a "kick in the guts" for them, he said.

"We were hanging our hopes on the robot because it can get around anywhere in the mine and tell you where our miners are and how they are. Without rescuers it was the next best thing.

"We walked in there and it was a kick in the guts. It's history. Imagine how that went down."

"People really started to be questioning of the procedures. There's a certain amount of anger coming up now. It was very emotional for everyone including myself."

Frustration turned to anger when family members after they were told a replacement robot was being flown in from the United States, he said.

"They asked why didn't they have a backup on their way already. Hell, it's desperate. It's so frustrating."

He implored families and the wider community not to give up hope of getting the miners out alive.

News of 29 Chinese miners rescued from a coal mine yesterday had buoyed some spirits, he says.

"We've got to take heart from those kinds of things."

The trapped miners:
Conrad Adams, 43 (Greymouth), Malcolm Campbell, 25 (Greymouth - Scottish), Glen Cruse, 35 (Cobden), Allan Dixon, 59 (Runanga), Zen Drew, 21 (Greymouth), Christopher Duggan, 31 (Greymouth), Joseph Dunbar, 17 (Greymouth), John Hale, 45 (Ruatapu), Daniel Herk, 36 (Runanga), David Hoggart, 33 (Foxton), Richard Holling, 41 (Blackball), Andrew Hurren, 32 (Greymouth), Jacobus 'Koos' Jonker, 47 (Coben - South African), William Joynson, 49 (Dunollie - Australian), Riki Keane, 28 (Greymouth), Terry Kitchin, 41 (Runanga), Samuel Mackie, 26 (Greymouth), Francis Marden, 42 (Runanga), Michael Monk, 23 (Greymouth), Stuart Mudge, 31 (Runanga), Kane Nieper, 33 (Greymouth), Peter O'Neill, 55 (Runanga), Milton Osborne, 54 (Ngahere), Brendon Palmer, 27 (Cobden), Benjamin Rockhouse, 21 (Greymouth), Peter Rodger, 40 (Greymouth - British), Blair Sims, 28 (Greymouth), Joshua Ufer 25 (Australia), Keith Valli, 62 (Winton).