Investigation launched after Waihi mine fire
Tue, 17 Jul 2012 3:52p.m.
By 3 News online staff
All 28 workers trapped by an early morning fire at an underground mine in Waihi have been rescued, some of them having been trapped for seven hours.
Operations at Newmont Waihi Gold’s Trio gold mine were halted when the alarm was raised around 5am this morning after a truck engine caught fire.
An investigation has been launched into the fire, which forced all 28 miners into three refuge chambers in different parts of the mine.
Thirteen of the miners were reached by rescue staff at around 10:30am, with the remaining 15 in a separate deep refuge chamber.
By 12pm, the final 15 workers were rescued, after seven hours in the chamber.
There was smoke coming out of the mine’s vent shaft on Union Hill and High Hazards Unit inspectors were involved in the rescue. The smoke billowing from the mine had mainly subsided by 11am.
One person is being checked after smoke inhalation, but everyone else seems to be well. Newmont says the company has been speaking to miners’ families and the community about what is happening.
“All are in good spirits,” Waihi Gold general operations manager Glen Grindlay tells the New Zealand Herald. He says some of the miners thought it was a drill.
The fire from the 35-tonne Komatsu truck has now burnt out, reduced to a stock pile while rescuers worked to save the miners.
Mr Grindlay says an investigation will focus on the cause of the fire. Hauraki District Mayor John Tregidga says workers would like to know why the diesel engine caught fire.
“You would think vehicles being used underground are well serviced,” says Mr Tregidga.
The refuge chambers contain oxygen masks and first-aid for workers in emergency situations. They are completely sealed, with access to water, communication and items to help pass the time, like playing cards.
The chambers are equipped to keep miners alive up to 36 hours.
The Trio mine is a hardrock gold mine and there is no risk of an explosion, meaning it is safest for workers to wait to be rescued, unlike in coal mine accidents.
Mine spokesman Kit Wilson said there were three Mines Rescue teams onsite to assist with evacuation.
Solid Energy also offered assistance.
The union that represents miners told RadioLIVE it is happy with the way the incident is being handled.
However, the Engineering, Printing, and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell says safety measures in mines need to be strengthened.
The union says regulations should be brought up to speed with Queenland’s model, which is considered one of the best in the world.
The EPMU will be involved in a debrief situation this afternoon, aimed at evaluating the how the evacuation process went and how well miners reacted to the fire. They will also help miners cope, should they have any special needs following the incident.
Mr O’Connell says it will be a good opportunity to assess the situation, given there were no casualties.
Three inspectors from the Government’s High Hazard Unit are on site to ensure further safety in the aftermath of the accident.
“The focus now must be on the safety of those doing any work around extinguishing or containing the fire,” says the General Manager of the unit, Brett Murray.
Newmont Waihi Gold manages the Martha, Favona and Trio mines in Waihi. The Trio project is due for completion in 2014.
The mine had recently lodged an application to extend operations in Waihi.
Public tours of the mine have been cancelled for the day.
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