In a coal mining accident reminiscent of the South Island's Pike River mine disaster, hope is rapidly fading for a group of trapped miners in Mexico.
Mexican officials today said there was little hope of a Chile-style rescue operation after an explosion in the northern Mexico mine where five of 14 trapped miners have been confirmed dead.
Chile's foreign ministry said it dispatched a team of five specialists, at the request of Mexico, including two who worked on the spectacular operation to save 33 Chilean miners who spent 69 days deep underground last year.
But the outlook was grim, according to Mexican Labor Minister Javier Lozano, saying: "there are no signs of life."
"Experts say there is almost no chance that they could have survived," Lozano told Televisa TV network, after announcing the recovery of a fifth body.
The strong blast, which officials blamed on methane gas, also struck a teenager who was working outside the mine and later had to have his arms amputated, investigators said.
The explosion occurred early Tuesday at the mine near the town of Sabinas, in northern Coahuila state near the US border and the site of a 2006 mine explosion which left 65 dead.
It provoked fresh criticism of failings in mine safety here, and of the inability to recover most of the bodies from the blast in 2006.
Several rescue workers who managed to enter the small mine some 60 metres deep were hampered in their efforts due to methane emissions, officials said.
Anxious families gathered outside as rescue efforts picked up today.
President Felipe Calderon meanwhile said he had ordered the Attorney General's Office to open an investigation into the explosion.
The mine had been operating in precarious conditions with 15 workers for only 18 days and its legal status needed to be checked, Lozano told Televisa today.
"They didn't even tell us they had started to operate," he said.
The miners, metalworkers and steelworkers union on Tuesday urged the government to take stronger action against companies who do not take sufficient safety measures.
A 2006 explosion in the Pasta de Conchos mine, also near Sabinas, killed 65 miners. Only two of those bodies have been recovered.
"It's incredible this accident could happen after Pasta de Conchos, and that they haven't taken precautions," said Iris Delgado, a family member waiting with around 40 others outside the mine.
Twenty-nine workers were killed at the Pike River mine near Greymouth last year after a number of explosions, which set part of the mine on fire.