Family of killed miner in Waihi: 'Tragedy has hit our little whanau'

Police have named the man killed in last night's Waihi mine accident.

He was Tipiwai Stainton from Western Bay of Plenty.

Family members today paid tribute to the 29-year-old.

Kate Gardam posted a poignant message on Facebook today saying the tragic accident had left the whanau with an overwhelming sense of grief.

"Tragedy has hit our little whanau. We lost our darling Tip to a mining accident last night.

"We are all feeling very shocked and over whelmed at the moment as we try to come to terms with what has happened.

"There are no words to express the sadness we feel," she wrote.

Stainton's partner Ana-Lee Hemopo this morning updated a photo of the couple on her Facebook page.

Another friend said Stainton had worked in the mine for more than seven years and knew "every aspect of the place".

He was regarded as a "great guy" as well as being a keen hunter and fisherman.

His long-term partner Hemopo was said to be heartbroken.

Earlier the work family of Stainton paid tribute to him.

Police said Stainton was found dead inside the wreckage after an underground mine rescue team carried out an overnight search for the missing man at OceanGold's Correnso mine.

Mining union, E tū this morning expressed its support and condolences, saying miners were much like a family and the man's death was ''tragic" and ''untimely".

"The mining community is close-knit and in many respects like a family", Mr Myles said.

"There will be grief and shock over what's happened, and we want to ensure people are well-supported", he says.

It was too early to speculate on the cause of Stainton's death but the union was confident Worksafe and the company would investigate thoroughly, Mr Myles said.

At a press conference this morning, mine boss Bernie O'Leary said the loader he was in rolled in a large open area called a stope, which is like an underground cave.

Stainton was putting backfill material into that area.

A 29-year-old man died in an underground loader like this one. Photo / OceanaGold
A 29-year-old man died in an underground loader like this one. Photo / OceanaGold

The incident happened about 6.30pm yesterday.

Her said Waihi was a close community and the mine's thoughts are with the worker's family.

"The task at hand that the operator was performing was the backfilling of waste rock into the void, a void created by mining out gold bearing rock, and during the backfilling operation this is when the accident took place."

Mr O'Leary said it was the first time in the company's 25-year history in New Zealand that a worker had been killed.

Between 25 and 30 staff were working on the shift at the time of the accident.

"Our thoughts are with the family and his workmates," he said.

"We are supporting them as much as we can at this very difficult time, as we know the Waihi community will too."

Work at the mine has been suspended.

OceanaGold senior community advisor Kit Wilson said it was far too early to speculate on the cause of the accident in the Correnso mine.

WorkSafe and police are still at the scene.

Hauraki Mayor John Tregidga said the the mine had a good safety record.

He said training and the Worksafe practices operated in the mine were extremely high.
He says this is a very unfortunate incident.

He said the whole community would be feeling for the family today.

OceanaGold chief executive officer Mick Wilkes last night said the company was co-operating fully with authorities to determine the cause of the accident.

"We are all deeply saddened by this tragic event," said Wilkes.

"On behalf of all employees at OceanaGold I offer our deepest prayers and condolences to the family of the worker and employees of the mine."

Area Commander Inspector John Kelly thanked all those involved in the rescue operation and offered his sympathies to Stainton's family and friends.

- NZ Herald

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