Situation ‘grave’ at New Zealand mine

The situation at a New Zealand mine where 29 miners are trapped is “grave”, police say.

Superintendent Gary Knowles said drilling had commenced at the Pike River mine and rescue teams were looking at sourcing fibre optic cable to gain a visual of the mine shaft.

Rescue teams remained on standby to carry out a rescue operation as soon as it was safe to do so, Superintendent Knowles said.

Superintendent Knowles said families had given permission for the miners’ names to be released.

“It is important that we release the names of the miners so people know who they are,” he said.

New Zealand mine graphic  

Rescue teams were considering using a robot to gain access to the mine when it was safe, he added.

“The situation at the mine remains grave,” he said.

After the names of the 29 men were read out, chief executive John Whittall said it was “very difficult” for him to listen to the names.

He said he was very proud of the work of his staff.

“Everyone’s working really hard for them,” he said.

Willy Joynson, 49, a father of two from Tinana on the Fraser Coast, north of Brisbane, was revealed to be the second Australian man trapped underground.

Police yesterday confirmed that Joshua Ufer, also from Queensland, is also among those trapped.

Superintendent Knowles said all the names would be posted on later in the day.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he understood the fear, anxiety and frustration of the miners’ families.

“They are all very human reactions,” he said.

However, it was important that the lives of rescue workers were not endangered, he said.

“These are challenging times,” he said.

Mr Whittall said this was the first time anything like this had happened in a mine where he had worked.

“This is a unique situation,” he said.

Mr Key said “it goes without saying” that an inquiry would be held into the incident.

“My understanding is New Zealand has a good safety record when it comes to mining,” he said.

In response to a question about safety standards at the mine, Mr Key said: “Our understanding is that to this point these operations are of the highest safety standards and those that would be expected of any coal mine in the current environment.”

Superintendent Knowles said the robot would be sent in as soon as rescuers got “the green light”.

“This has to be a safe environment, I’m not going to send a robot in thinking it could [trigger] another explosion.

“Safety is paramount for those underground and for my team.”

The rescuers would be using a robot supplied by the NZ defence forces, with a camera attached, Superintendent Knowles said.

“Initially it would go into the tunnel to the vehicle which we believe is in the main shaft, give us an idea of what we’re looking at, and it would come out and we could look at whether we could go in ourselves,” he said.

“We’re then looking at extending the length of the cord that runs that thing, to go beyond that point and keep going.”

But he warned that the robot would need to be operating in a safe environment, saying he would not risk it creating another spark and collapsing the tunnel.


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