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Pike River: Mayor says 'we have hope'

Friday 19 Nov 2010 5:17 p.m.

By 3 News staff / NZPA

For continued updates from Day Two click here

11:09am: Andrew Little, secretary of the EPMU spoke to Sean Plunkett on The Nation this morning. He says there have been no issues with Pike River from the union’s point of view. He is not sure if any of the miners are in the EPMU. He says the union’s job is to provide a presence and reassurance to families.

10:56am: 3 News reporter Hamish Clark spoke to Sean Plunkett on The Nation from outside Greymouth Police Station. He says there are four or five choppers in the air trying to collect samples of air in the mine shaft to determine whether it is safe to enter the mine. He said this is purely to determine whether it is safe for rescuers to enter, it is not the rescue taking place as of yet. Hamish re-iterated what Mr Whittall told the media conference earlier this morning. There are ventilation shafts where the miners could be located. They have been trained to seek those out and stay in that position. Another media briefing will be held at 2pm.

10:23am: Peter Whittall, CEO of Pike River Coal spoke to RadioLIVE this morning about the length of time it could take to rescue the men. “It could take two to four hours to establish a fresh air base in the tunnel. They would then have to change crews out because the work is difficult and after four hours’ work they will be exhausted. They would have to be replaced and then over the subsequent 12 to 24 hours they would then use that base for search and recovery,” he says.

10:04am: It has been confirmed by Sky News that one of the miners who managed to free himself from the mine yesterday, has a brother still in the mine.

9:39am: Minister of Energy and Resources, Gerry Brownlee spoke from Greymouth to The Nation this morning and said experts from Australia are on their way to help out at the mine. Mr Brownlee opened the mine almost two years ago. He says the focus is on the families of those who are trapped. He told Duncan Garner the rescuers are extremely competent.

9:31am: Tony Kokshoorn, mayor of Greymouth, told The Nation this morning, rescuers would be down the mine to free the men if they could but it is too dangerous at the moment. He says rescuers from around the world have been in contact offering support and help. He reiterated what Mr Whittall told the media conference: that the miners have been trained to find ventilated shafts and stay in that place. He says there are a number of ventilated shafts in the mine. “Until we’re told otherwise, there’s a lot of hope for us here on the West Coast,” he told Sean Plunkett.

9:14am: Two choppers have been seen flying into the mine. One is a rescue helicopter.

9:12am: A church service is being held at St Patrick’s in Greymouth.

8:33am: Mr Whittall says the youngest miner underground is 17 and the eldest is 62. Mr Whittall knows all the miners personally and employed them all.

8:30am: Mr Whittall has told the conference that one of the miner’s phones is working. They have called it but there is no answer. He stresses that could be because the phone is located in an area too dangerous for the miners to reach.

8:26am: The air testing which needs to take place is detailed. To test the air they have to go down with a shaft. To do that without a chopper, could take 2.5 hours over rugged terrain and then a 3 hour walk back. Mr Whittall says the testing could take 6-8 hours before the rescue can begin. If they can get a chopper, the testing can take an hour.

8:18am: Mr Whittall says the miners could be up to 2 or 2.5 kilometres inside the mine. He says he is unsure of what caused the explosion at this stage. He has confirmed there are 29 miners underground. 16 are Pike River coal employees and 13 are contractors.

8:13am: Mr Whittall has just told the conference the miners are carrying self escape devices which they carry on their belt. He says it gives them 30 to 60 minutes of oxygen.

8:10am: Superintendent Gary Knowles has addressed the media conference. He is in charge of the rescue operation. He says the environment is the biggest problem as it is unstable. Police have briefed the families this morning and are being updated hourly. Superintendent Knowles says he is not prepared to send crews in when it is unsafe for them. He told the conference “we want to bring these boys home.”

8:04am: CEO of Pike River Peter Whittall has addressed a media conference this morning. He confirmed there has not been any communications with the mine and no one has been able to enter the mine. The damage underground is not known at this stage. Mine’s Rescue Services are at the site but have not gone underground. Mr Whittall says the conditions are not safe for them to enter. They are testing the air and will be reassessing throughout the day. The mine is a tunnel, not shaft mine and once conditions are safe. Mr Whittall says rescue teams will enter.

8:01am: 3 News reporter Hamish Clark says he understands there has been no contact with the miners overnight. TV3 live broadcast on air now. Police conference to follow.

7:30am: RadioLIVE spoke this morning to Lisa McGregor who owns the Ikamatua Pub, 30 kilometres from Pike River. She kept the pub open all night last night and concerned locals gathered. “It’s very surreal. There are some people just sitting around staring into space. The phone has been red hot. There are a lot of people in disbelief. It’s very surreal.”

7:25am: Pike River mine CEO Peter Whittall has moved to reassure over concerns the entire roof may have collapsed on the miners. He spoke to RadioLIVE this morning: “The roof conditions in there are excellent and the mine is held up by roof bolts and we use a number of different types of bolting techniques. There’s no concern with strata control in the mine at all.”

 7:17am: The air quality is determining the timing of the rescue of the 27 miners. Rescue workers have been on standby at the mine entrance throughout the night, testing the air quality regularly.

RadioLIVE spoke to Superintendent Gary Knowles who says the hourly checks will soon become more frequent and rescuers will go in as soon as the air quality permits.

“Rescue teams have been down the vent and brought back air samples and they’ve been tested. At this stage it looks like the methane gas is still a bit too powerful to send in rescue teams.” The police conference will be broadcast live on TV3 at 8am.

7:01am: New Zealand Police have released a statement to say they will be updating media of the situation at the Pike River Coal mine at 8am this morning.

6:35am:
As daylight breaks, there’s still no work from the 27 trapped men in the Pike River Coal mine. Rescue helicopters have returned to the scene and offers of help have come from Australia.

6:34am: Pike River has said despite ventilation not working, those in the mine should have access to fresh air.

6:32am: The All Blacks have sent their regards to the Pike River miners and their families. Captain Richie McCaw has said from Ireland “It’s not good when you hear things like that happen back home…hopefully the people are ok.”

Summary at 2am: At about 4:30pm yesterday an explosion at the Pike River Coal Mine saw more than 30 miners trapped.

Five men have managed to escape to safety but 27 are still underground as of 2am last night.

Rescue efforts have been delayed due to concerns that gas in the mine may still represent a hazard.

A welfare centre has been set up at Tainui Road in Greymouth for family members of trapped miners.

3 News reporters Jeff Hampton, Hamish Clark and Adam Ray are at the scene.

3news.co.nz will have live updates on this story throughout the day.

1:48am: Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn says the number of miners trapped is 28. He just spoke to media and reiterated that one of his own councillors is trapped. Mr Kokshoorn says Grey District Councillor Milton Osborne is a contractor at the Pike River Coal mine.

1:42am: Comparisons to the Chilean miner rescue are not appropriate as the Pike River Coal Mine is built on a hill and does not go straight down.

Chief Executive of the PikeRiver mine Peter Whittall said the operation to reach the men would not resemble the rescue of 33 Chilean miners last month.

"We're not a deep-shafted mine so men and rescue teams can get in and out quite effectively, and they'll be able to explore the mine quite quickly," he said.

1:33am: Despite the delay in the rescue effort due to concerns around gas at the site, paramedics are on standby.

"St John has sent a team of paramedics to the West Coast ... in preparation for any rescue efforts which take place tomorrow," an ambulance spokesman said tonight.

1:13am: According to TVNZ even Pike River Coal chairman John Dow is in the dark as to the cause of the explosion, thought to be a result of gas. He says he is also unaware of where the miners are in the mine.

1.01am: The rescue effort for the 27 trapped miners is being hampered by safety concerns. The team are trying to make sure the vents are clear in case there is a build up of gas, said police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn.

The mine is deemed unsafe until this is established.

12:40am: Kymberley Ufer on the Pike River Facebook page has contacted 3 News to say her brother Joshua is one of the people stuck in the mine. He is an Australian contractor.

12:32am: 3 News reporter Hamish Clark has been outside the Welfare Centre at Tainui Street in Greymouth. He says the Red Cross are not allowing media inside. The centre is still open and people have been coming and going over the last hour.

* Do you know any of the miners trapped at the Pike River mine? Contact 3 News at news@tv3.co.nz or 09 9289000 ex 5049.

12:29am: Louise Blair on the Pike River Facebook page says “choppers just flew over, going to Pike”.

12:00am: "St John has sent a team of paramedics to the West Coast ... in preparation for any rescue efforts which take place tomorrow," an ambulance staff member told NZPA tonight.

Tasman Police district commander Superintendent Gary Knowles travelled from his Nelson headquarters to oversee the police team who were gathering in Greymouth.

However, the emergency workers - including the West Coast mines rescue squad - tonight remained outside the mine portal amid concerns about ventilation inside.

11:45pm: Labour's Phil Goff has expressed his concern at the situation developing at the Pike River mine.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the miners, their families who are waiting anxiously for news and for the West Coast community which is shocked by the incident and its potential consequences.

"We know that the Government and emergency agencies will do everything humanly possible to rescue those caught up in this disaster. We hope and pray the miners can be reached and recovered as soon as possible."

Facebook users have been expressing thoughts of hope on the Supporting the Pike River miners page.

Mark Godwin used to work at the mine, and says he still feels "connected".

"Hang in there mates & your families & your rescuers. Thank God for Mines Rescue," he wrote.

 11:35pm: A welfare centre has been set up for the families of the trapped miners.

The centre is at the Red Cross Hall, 180 Tainui St, Greymouth, and police say it is a warm and dry meeting place for those who are waiting for news from the site.

Police are encouraging families to use this centre rather than trying to reach the mine's access road which is closed to everyone with the exception of emergency services.

10:40pm: The early stages of the rescue are underway. Specialists have entered the mine to test the air quality, but it is expected no decision will be made on entering the mine's depths until the early morning.

There is currently no sign of smoke from the mine. Smoke seen nearby turned out to be old pine trees being disposed of.

Some of the miners come from Greynouth, some from Reefton, further inland.

Tina Nicen of the Blackball Working Men's Club says one of their members is stuck down the mine, and everyone at the club is "shellshocked".

10:30pm: There are reports one of those missing is Greynouth District Councillor Milton Osborne. Greer McDonald, Stuff business reporter, made the claim on her Twitter account.

More than 20 St John personnel are on site, and six ambulances can be seen from the air.

10:10pm: A Facebook group has been set up in support of the trapped miners. You can join by clicking here.

On Twitter, people are talking about it using the hashtags #pikeriver, #miners and #nzminers.

10:05pm: It could be days before rescue efforts begin, according to Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn.

"We are holding on to hope," he told The Press. "Look at Chile, all those miners were trapped and they all came out alive.''

It has been confirmed by Pike River Coal the inciting incident was a gas explosion.

There are no confirmed reports of any fatalities.

10:00pm: Gas has long been recognised as a problem with mining at Pike River. More details here.

8:10pm: One of those who escaped the mine was discovered by an electrician sent in to investigate a reported power outage. Three others followed the pair that emerged earlier, bringing the total who have survived to at least five.

Sky News Australia reported Pike River Coal's stock price on the Australian market fell considerably before a hold on trading was placed on the company's shares.

7:57pm:: Campbell Live this evening had interviews with the chief executive of Pike River Coal, Mining Minister Gerry Brownlee and Simon Baker, a photojournalist who has been down the mine.

7:40pm:: The two miners who emerged earlier are being treated for moderate injuries at a hospital in Greymouth. They confirmed there had been an explosion.

7:30pm:: Concern is growing for the trapped miners, as the power underground is out, preventing adequate ventilation. Family members have started to gather outside the entrance to the mine.

7:25pm:: Pike River Coal confirms there are 27 miners unaccounted for, 15 of which are employees.The other 12 are local contractors. Previous reports that management staff may have been amongst those trapped appear to be false.

Thirty-six miners appear to be trapped following an explosion at the Pike River Coal mine on the West Coast this afternoon.

7:20pm: There are reports another miner has emerged from the mine.

5:50pm: Reports emerge of two miners leaving the mine, while 33 are still not accounted for.
 
4:50pm: Emergency services begin to travel to the mine.
 
3:45pm: Reports begin to emerge of an explosion at a Pike River Coal mine near Greymouth.

Thirty-six miners appear to be trapped following an explosion at the Pike River Coal mine on the West Coast this afternoon.

Thirty-six tags belonging to miners were still hanging on the board at the mine, police said.

"Those miners have not yet been heard from," said police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn.

There was a power outage at the mine this afternoon, and an electrician went in to investigate about 3:50pm. He discovered a loader driver who had been blown off his machine about 1500m into the mine shaft, she said.

Two workers had emerged from the mine, but they had been working in a different area.

Emergency services are at the mine's processing plant in Atarau, halfway between Greymouth and Reefton.

St John Ambulance said six ambulances were on the scene, and three rescue helicopters were being sent from Nelson, Greymouth and Christchurch.

There was no information on patients.

Grey mayor Tony Kokshoorn told Radio NZ between 25 and 30 miners were unaccounted for after the explosion.

"It doesn't sound good at all but we have just got to pray that everything is OK."

Police are not able to supply further details and the mines owners are not yet commenting.

The mine - located 46km east of Greymouth - was originally expected to produce around a million tonnes of coal a year for around 20 years, which would have made it the second-largest coal export mine in the country, as well as the largest underground coal mine of the country.

Coal at the site was described as "New Zealand's largest known deposit of high fluidity and quality hard coking coal" particularly suited to iron smelting and capable of earning around $170 million a year from exports.

Setbacks during late 2007 and early 2008 delayed the start of coal production, but it has sent two shipments of coal.

The mine has a development and consenting history going back to the 1970s, with the first geologists and surveyors having explored the area in the 1940s.

Sited on located on Crown land administered by the Department of Conservation, and adjacent to the Paparoa National Park, its coal in the Bunner coal seam is mined 200m underground, at 800m above sea level.

The coal face is about 2.3km in from the tunnel entrance, and slightly uphill.

The mine has a 110m deep ventilation shaft, which had to be reconstructed after rock collapse while being built.

The operation has been valued at over $2 billion and Oil and Gas holds a 31 percent stake, and two Indian companies Gujarat NRE Coke Ltd (10 percent) and Saurashtra Fuels Private Ltd (8.5 percent).

Chief executive Peter Whittall told Campbell Live it is not known what caused this afternoon's explosion that has trapped miners underground at the Pike River coal mine near Greymouth.

Those trapped are mixture of employees and contractors.

-------

New Zealand has seen its share of mine disasters, with 181 people killed since 1896. Today, 36 people are missing after an explosion at the Pike River coal mine.

The mine, about 46km northeast of Greymouth is on the opposite side of the Paparoa Ranges from the now-closed Strongman State Mine where 19 miners died in an explosion in January 1967.

In that disaster, 240 men were working in the mine at the time, but a wet patch 140m down the tunnel put out the fireball from the explosion.

Pike River takes its high-quality coking coal from the estimated 58 million tonnes in the Brunner coal measures -- with another 29 million tonnes thought to be in the Paparoa seam 150m below .

The coal from the Brunner seam has a very low ash content, at 1 percent compared to 8 percent in premium Australian coking coals. It also has low phosphorous levels but moderate sulphur levels.

It was that coal that was being collected by the men when they were killed in the nation's worst industrial disaster -- the Brunner mine deaths in which 65 men died in March 1896, killed by gas.

New Zealand's mine disasters include:

* Kaitangata, February 1879: Candles cause explosion in an area known for methane (firedamp) killed 34 men and boys.

* Brunner, March 1896: Incorrect blasting set off a gas explosion -- probably methane -- killing 65 men.

* Huntly, Ralph's mine, September 1914: A miner's naked light ignited firedamp, killing 43 men.

* Dobson mine, December 1926: An explosion killed nine men.

* Huntly, Glen Afton mine, September 1939: Carbon monoxide asphyxiated 11 men.

* Strongman mine, 11km northeast of Greymouth, January 1967: explosion killed 19 miners.

* Black Reef Mine, near Greymouth, March 2006 - Robert McGowan, 39, drowned when he hit flooded mine workings.

According to a West Coast historian Brian Wood, who has written several books on mining, most of the nation's   serious accidents have occurred in coal mines, which are different to hard-rock mines.

"You've had your quartz-mining areas in Thames, Waihi and Reefton, but there's not been a major entrapment of miners underground in any of those mines," he said.

In 1970, four workers died and others were trapped for two days when the Kaimai railway tunnel collapsed.

The shaft of the Waiuta goldmine, near Reefton, collapsed in 1951. There was nobody underground.

NZPA / 3 News

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