29 presumed dead after second explosion at New Zealand mine

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gary Knowles, head of the search and rescue operation at the New Zealand Pike River Mine, told media a second explosion has occurred inside the mine. He stated there is no possibility any of the 29 men still inside could have survived.

Unfortunately I have to inform the public of New Zealand that at 2.37pm today there was another massive explosion underground and based on that explosion no one survived.

—Superintendent Gary Knowles

The situation began on Friday, around 3:45pm local time, with an explosion at the mine which is about halfway between the West Coast towns of Greymouth and Reefton. Emergency services began responding at 4.53pm; two miners managed to walk out and were treated for minor injuries at Grey Base Hospital, with 27 originally believed missing.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn initially stated: "We are holding on to hope. Look at Chile, all those miners were trapped and they all came out alive."

Early Saturday, Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall reported 29 were trapped underground, ranging from 17 to 62 years old. They were a mix of New Zealand, South African, Australian, and British nationals. Miners' families congregated at a hall in Greymouth, and were updated by the search and rescue leadership twice daily. Media briefings were also held twice daily.

Families and the public began to feel frustration that rescuers had not yet moved into the mine. The search co-ordinator Superintendent Garry Knowles explained that the gas levels in the mine meant that the risk of another explosion was too high to allow entry. The Police Commissioner, Minister of Police, and Prime Minister all confirmed they supported the decision not to send rescuers in while expert analysis showed the mine was still unsafe.

The New Zealand Defence Force supplied a bomb-disposal robot to take video footage inside the mine. However, the robot only made it 550 metres up the tunnel before being shorted out by water in the mine. Later, the robot was restarted; this time it made it 1000 metres in before running out of battery. A second Defence robot was also sent in and recorded some video footage. A 160 metre long bore-hole was drilled from the surface into an area deeper in the mine to gauge the gas levels in areas closer to where the miners could be. It was reported that the samples from that bore-hole were showing up to 95 percent methane.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Knowles reported that there had been a second large explosion at 2:37pm, at least as big as the first. "Unfortunately I have to inform the public of New Zealand that at 2.37pm today there was another massive explosion underground and based on that explosion no one survived." He said the rescue team and experts believed survival was impossible. The Grey District Mayor reported that a recovery team had gone in while gas levels were still low. In a more extended briefing, the Pike River Mining chief executive explained this had not occurred as the mine was still too dangerous, but said they would do everything they could to recover the bodies.

International leaders including Queen Elizabeth have sent their condolences.