It was Pike River CEO Peter Whittall who broke the news to the miners' families this afternoon, that their worst fears had been realised and that there was no hope for the 29 trapped men.

He faced the families alone. He felt a responsibility to tell them himself.

"They looked to me for hope, to let them know what was going was my task, and I wanted to tell the families," Mr Whittall said.

Mr Whittall told Close Up tonight how difficult it had been to tell the missing miners' families of the second explosion.

He said they had been hopeful when he arrived to brief them on the latest rescue news.

"You could see their eyes light up and their faces light up. I had to wait until they'd stopped clapping to tell them," he said.

"It was really hard today because I had gone in with the hope of being able to tell them we'd started the rescue operation.

"I was hoping to turn up today to tell them we were going into the pit.

"The little hope that we had that there was someone there waiting for us just doesn't seem to be there any more," he said.

Though giving no indication of when a team would enter the mine, Mr Whittall said "we want our boys back, and we want them out.

Mr Whittall said that authorities had been "vindicated" by not putting a rescue team into the mine, and "those men's lives were saved".

"This means lives are saved because they did the right thing.

"All those who asserted they should just go in have been shown why they shouldn't have gone in.

"The men underground I'm sure would have understood that."

Earlier today Mr Whittall said he still retained some hope, even though he knew it was unlikely all men would walk out alive.

He went up to the mine this afternoon to evaluate and discuss the results of gas samples taken from inside the mine.

He reviewed CCTV footage after being informed of an irregularity in the results.

It was while looking over the blast that he saw the devastating sight - a plume of smoke billowing out of the mine entrance.

He said the second blast appeared "more significant, large and strong" than the initial explosion, so strong that none of the men could have survived it.

"We were coming to a point when we were hopeful we could get some men out," he said.

However, he said those hopes were dashed by this afternoon's explosion.

"I knew a lot of those boys and their families personally. Today I spoke with one of the boys fathers who arrived from Scotland.

"They loved it, they absolutely loved it. None of us ever believed it would happen and we worked hard to make sure that it wouldn't happen."