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Probe begins into Waihi gold mine death

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/07/2016

A man killed in an accident at the Waihi underground gold mine has been named as Tipiwai Stainton.

Work has stopped at the mine while Worksafe NZ and police investigate the death of the 29-year-old from Western Bay of Plenty, who died on Thursday evening when his front-end loader rolled down a "stope", or mined out void.

The accident happened about 2km into the mine, at a depth of about 200m.

Mr Stainton's body was found inside his cab about four-and-a-half hours later.

His partner Ana-Lee Hemopo shared a photo of the pair on Facebook, while friends and family struggled to express their loss.

"Tragedy has hit our little whanau," Kate Gardam wrote on Facebook.

"We are all very shocked and overwhelmed at the moment as we try to come to terms with what has happened. There are no words to express the sadness we feel."

Bonks Quinlan added "gone to (sic) soon my homie".

Mr Stainton had been working to backfill waste rock into the void, says mine general manager Bernie O'Leary.

"During that backfilling operation is when the accident took place," he told reporters on Friday morning.

He could not say much about the accident while it was being investigated.

"Right now our thoughts are with the family, and his workmates. We are supporting them as much as we can in this very difficult time, as we know the Waihi community will also."

It was OceanaGold's first death in 25 years of New Zealand operations, Mr O'Leary said.

"We are very proud of safety record here at Waihi. It's too early to speculate about what happened. Until we know what actually happened and work that through with the authorities I don't want to comment any further."

Mines Rescue had done a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, he said.

Inspector John Kelly says police expect to release the man's name about midday on Friday.

OceanaGold is a Melbourne-based company which operates mines in New Zealand, the Philippines and the United States.

"We are all deeply saddened by this tragic event," chief executive Mick Wilkes said in a statement to stock markets.

"It is a sobering reminder that the health and safety of our workforce is paramount each and every day.

"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."

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