By: Trevor Loudon
Just awoke to this. The Pike River mine is about 120 miles from my base in Christchurch, on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Very rugged country.
From the Christchurch Press:
A bid to rescue up to 29 men trapped after an explosion at a West Coast mine is being delayed by fears gas could still be present.
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittal confirmed at an 8 am press conference that 29 men are still underground, 16 are Pike River coal employees and 13 are contractors, not including the two who escaped yesterday evening.
The youngest, a mine assistant, was 17 and the oldest 62. Sixteen were staff and 13 contractors. The majority were New Zealanders, from the West Coast, but there were also Australians and Britons in the group.
The rescuers have been calling the phone that one of the escaped men rang to tell the surface that he was leaving the mine after the explosion, but there has been no answer.
There is still no way of knowing what caused the explosion.
He said the only damage they knew about was that which could be seen to a ventilation shaft above the mine.
Whittal said the mine had safe areas where the men could have got to and they were also equipped with breathing apparatus and other emergency equipment. But the miners could be up to 2 or 2.5 kilometers inside the mine.
Superintendent Gary Knowles, the Tasman Police District Commander who is leading the rescue effort, was determined the men would be rescued.
“This is a search and rescue operation and we’re going to bring these guys home.”
At 7 am this morning the families of the trapped men were briefed for 50 minutes.
However, Pike River chairman John Dow said early Saturday it was possible the miners could have made it to the mine’s safety refuges.
He said even if there was gas in other parts of the mine, about 50 km northeast of Greymouth, as rescuers feared, there could be fresh air in the refuges.
Two men, Russell Smith, 50 and Daniel Rockhouse, 24, fled to the surface following the explosion and were treated for moderate injuries at Grey Base Hospital.
When they emerged they indicated three more workers were on their way out but there has been no sign of them.
Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn said it could take days before it was safe enough for the specialist rescue teams to re-enter the mine.
“We are holding on to hope. Look at Chile, all those miners were trapped and they all came out alive.”
West Coast area commander Inspector John Canning said the men were at least 1500 meters underground.
Police were notified an hour after the men failed to report, at 4.30 pm, as was the practice in such emergencies.
Canning said mine rescue were called in immediately.
Robin Kingston, archdeacon of the Greymouth and Kumara Anglican Church, said many of the church’s parishioners were involved directly or indirectly with the Pike River Mine
“There is a significant amount of nervousness around at the moment. People have been asking for prayers for those they know who are not accounted for as yet.”
Kingston said the community was worried, but not panicking.
“We are a community that has gone through many, many crises. Some worked out okay, and some were absolutely disastrous. We tend not to jump to conclusions and wait to see,” he said.
“If it is disastrous, well, we will handle it well. We tend not to panic until we know for sure.”
Prime Minister John Key said: “Our heart and thoughts go out to the miners and their families… we will do anything humanly possible to aid the miners and to rescue them.”