New Zealand mine explosion: 27 miners trapped
Published 19/11/2010 | 10:07
Up to 27 miners are trapped underground after an explosion ripped through a coal mine on New Zealand's South Island.
The blast took place at the Pike River Coal mine, 160 miles west of Christchurch.
The mine's management said up to 27 workers were trapped by the explosion and that two men, who were in a separate part of the mine, had managed to find their way out.
Peter Whittall, the mine's chief executive, said that the two men had returned to the surface and they were being interviewed to try and determine the full extent of the incident. The men had minor injuries and had not had any communication with the trapped men, he said.
"One of the employees has said they felt an explosion underground, and since then he's walked from the mine with another employee," Mr Whittall said.
Earlier, Tony Kokshoorn, the mayor of Grey District, where the mine is located, told Radio NZ: "It's not good".
"We don't know at what depth the explosion is but there's certainly a big explosion," he said.
The New Zealand Herald website reported that one man had died in the accident.
Police, the fire service, helicopters and ambulances were converging on the mine and mine rescue teams were being brought in as the mine operators considered how to try to reach the trapped men. Worried families of the miners were also starting to arrive at the gates of the mine.
John Canning, the police area commander, said details were still sparse but initial reports suggested that the men could be up to 5,000 feet underground.
Gerry Brownlee, the energy minister, said that the blast took place at 3.45pm local time. He did not know the condition of the trapped men, but said that they included miners on the afternoon shift and members of the mine management, who were on a safety tour at the time.
Mr Brownlee said emergency exit tunnels were built into the mine but that he didn't know if they could be accessed by the miners.
The incident was discovered when an electrician went into the mine to investigate a power outage and found one employee had been blown off his machine by the blast.
The mine, which is 1.4 miles deep, is located on the largest-known deposit of hard coking coal in New Zealand, with 58.5 million tonnes of coal in-ground. It employs 140 people and produces 1.5m tonnes of coal per year.
The mine has been open since 2008 and was increasing production after a series of technical problems delayed its development.
New Zealand's most recent mine disaster, in 1967, killed 19 miners.