At least twenty seven miners are believed to be trapped underground after an explosion at a remote colliery on New Zealand’s South Island. Five men escaped and are being treated in hospital.
The miners’ families face an anxious wait for news following the explosion.
The new mine, which only began shipping coal this year, is dug into the side of a mountain range in the country’s rugged South Island
The company which operates the mine, Pike River Coal, says emergency services are working with the human resources department to establish which workers are trapped.
At least twenty seven remain unaccounted for. Five miners walked out after the blast, and are being treated for injuries.
Police at the scene say rescuers are unable to enter the mine until it is deemed safe, which could take days. There are concerns about ventilation inside.
It is thought the miners are about 120 metres beneath the surface, and had started the afternoon shift about an hour before the blast.
We dread this kind of thing, we just dread it. Local Mayor Tony Kokshoorn
Pike River chief executive, Peter Whittall, told journalists: “One of the employees has said that he felt an explosion underground and that since then he’s walked from the mine with another employee.”
Pike River chairman John Dow said each miner carried 30 minutes of oxygen supply – enough to reach oxygen stores in the mine that he said would allow them to survive for “several days.”
The coal seam at the New Zealand mine is reached through a 1.4-mile horizontal tunnel that bores into the mountain toward the seam, which lies about 200 metres beneath the surface.
The local mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the rescue operation could take days.
He added that the experience of Chile’s miners, who were successfully rescued last month after surviving more than two months underground, was a source of inspiration: “We haven’t given up hope but it’s a serious situation.
“We just saw in Chile all those miners and every single one of them they got out of that mine so I’m hanging onto that at the moment.
“One of my councillors is down there. We’re one big family especially when it comes to coal mines. We dread this kind of thing, we just dread it.”
A welfare centre has been set up for the families of miners as they await news from the mine site.
The mine is 50 kilometres north-east of the town of Greymouth on the South Island.
A Facebook group has also been set up to support the miners.
The Greymouth district’s deputy mayor, Doug Truman, told Reuters by phone he had visited the mine and understood the coal deposit to be gaseous, but he stressed the safety standards there were very high and the workers highly trained.
“It’s a very high-quality coal but it’s gaseous – but they know that,” Truman said.
The company is around 30 per cent owned by NZ Oil and Gas Ltd with two Indian companies – Gujarat NRE and Saurashtra Fuels – as substantial minority shareholders.
The last major coal mining disaster in New Zealand was in 1967 when 19 miners were killed in an explosion at a coal mine in the same part of the country, a major coal-producing region.