21 Nov 2010

New Zealand mine: a survivor tells his story

As rescuers continue to stall a rescue attempt for the 29 trapped miners in New Zealand because of safety fears, one of those who escaped tells his story. Julian Rush listens in.

Rescuers are continuing to delay a rescue attempt because of fears of a second gas explosion. There has been no contact with the trapped miners since the first explosion ripped through the mine on New Zealand’s South Island on Friday.

But authorities said the risks were too “huge” to enter the mine unless gas levels were at safer levels.

District Police Commander Gary Knowles said: “It is not a case of simply pulling on a mask and running in there, the risk is huge. I’m not going to put 16 guys underground to effect a half-arsed rescue.”

Brits are among the trapped New Zealand miners - and experts warned Channel 4 News that the risk of another gas blast made it hard to tell when a rescue attempt could be made. 

However Mr Knowles remained positive that the miners had survived, saying: “This is primarily a rescue operation.”

The trapped men include 24 New Zealanders, two Brits, two Australians and a South African. Many of the miners’ families have travelled to the mine to await news on their relatives.

The Mayor of the area, Tony Kokshoorn, said everyone was clinging to hopes the miners would be safe, but were also realistic. The mine is small and there is good ventilation, but the initial explosion was likely to have been extremely dangerous.

“Every day we don’t hear a voice from that mine it becomes desperate,” Mr Kokshoorn said.

Rescue attempts at a New Zealand mine are still stalled due to the risk of explosion (Reuters).


Russell Smith is one of five miners who escaped the mine after Friday’s blast. He was an hour late for work, and was driving down the mine shaft when the explosion happened.

He described himself on Sunday as “very lucky”.

“I could easily have been blown to bits,” he said. “Because I wasn’t as far up, the explosion wasn’t as bad for me. It knocked me off my feet and knocked me unconscious and someone dragged me the 300 metres, brought me around, and then the two of us held each other to get out of the mine.”

He said the blast was not just one bang, but kept coming.

“I couldn’t breathe and that’s the last I remember.” Russell Smith, one of the survivors of the New Zealand mine explosion.

“I crouched down as low as I could to get behind the metal door to stop getting belted,” he said.”I remember struggling for breath. I thought at the time it was gas, but I have been told since it was dust…I couldn’t breathe and that’s the last I remember.

“Someone found me 15 minutes later, about 15 feet from the vehicle. I thought I must have climbed out…but actually I might have been blown out.”

He said, despite numerous showers, he couldn’t get the smell of smoke out of his hair. He said his thoughts were with his friends, trapped in the mine.

He said: “There’s a lot of young guys down there…whether they’re alive or dead you just don’t know.”