All 29 trapped miners in New Zealand dead: police

By Gyles Beckford

GREYMOUTH, New Zealand (BestGrowthStock) – All 29 miners trapped underground in a New Zealand mine for five days are believed to be dead following a second explosion, police said on Wednesday, as the government vowed to investigate the disaster.

The miners were trapped in the 2.3 km (1.4 mile) main tunnel of the Pike River Coal mine last Friday night when methane gas caused a massive explosion in the mountain on New Zealand’s south island. Two other miners narrowly escaped by running out of the mine.

“Today all New Zealanders grieve for these men. We are a nation in mourning,” said Prime Minister John Key said in an address to the nation in which he announced an inquiry would be held into the disaster. “New Zealand is a small country…where we are our brothers keepers. To lose so many brothers at once strikes an agonizing blow.”

Deadly toxic gas and fears of further explosions stopped rescuers entering the mine, despite desperate pleas by the miners’ relatives that rescue teams enter the mine to find their husbands and sons, aged between 17 and 62.

Rescuers used robots and electronic devices to explore for life in the mine, but there were no signs that any one had survived the initial blast.

On Wednesday morning rescuers said there was little chance any of the miners were still alive, but continued to monitor toxic gas levels hoping the air would clear enough for rescue teams to enter the mine.

A few hours later, as a 16-man rescue team prepared to possibly enter the mine, a second massive explosion occurred. “It is our belief that no one has survived and everyone will have perished,” said police superintendent Gary Knowles.

RELATIVES DISTRAUGHT, ANGRY

Pike River Coal Chief Executive the mine was still too unsafe for any attempt to retrieve the miners’ bodies for now. “Realistically many would never have come out alive even without a second blast,” he said tearfully. “There is still an ignition source. There is still methane coming from that explosion, but we want our boys back, we want to get them out,” said Whittall.

The second explosion was caused by a build up of methane gas. “A lethal mixture ignited the entire mine,” said local mayor Tony Kokshoorn. “It was a far larger (explosion) than the first one and at that point it was the end of everyone.”

“This is the west coast’s darkest hour,” said Kokshoorn. The Pike River mine, on the rugged and sparsely populated west coast of the south Island, is close to the sites of New Zealand’s two worst mining disasters. Sixty five miners were killed by gas in the Brunner coal mine in 1896 and 43 were killed in an explosion at Ralph’s mine in 1943. Mine chief Whittall said the second explosion was what rescuers had always feared. “It was a natural event that could have occurred on the second day, the third day, but it’s occurred today,” he said. Whittall said the second blast “vindicated” not putting a rescue team into the mine with continuing high gas levels. “This means lives are saved because they did the right thing. All those who asserted they should just go in, have been shown why they shouldn’t have gone in. The men underground I’m sure would have understood that,” he said. Distraught relatives of the dead miners were angry that rescuers had not immediately entered the mine to save their loved ones. They said that straight after the first blast the deadly gases would have been consumed in the explosion. “Now the truth can’t come out because no one down there will come out alive,” said Laurie Drew, father of 21-year-old trapped miner Zen. “If they do find that people were alive after that first blast there is going to be a lot of problems.” There have been previous examples of mine rescue attempts being called off they were deemed too risky, with the bodies left entombed at the site.

Three years ago in the U.S. state of Utah, a search for six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine, a bituminous coal mine, was abandoned after three rescue workers were killed.

About 50 km to the north of the Pike River mine, a mine is still believed to be burning underground, nearly 60 years after it first caught fire.

Trading in shares of Pike River Coal has been suspended since Friday’s accident. The company is around 30 percent owned by energy company NZ Oil and Gas Ltd with two Indian companies — Gujarat NRE and Saurashtra Fuels — as substantial minority shareholders.

(Writing by Michael Perry; Additional reporting by Adrian Bathgate in Wellington and James Regan in Sydney; Editing by Ed Davies)

All 29 trapped miners in New Zealand dead: police