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Pike River fears grow

Written By: - Date published: 5:02 pm, November 20th, 2010 - 37 comments
Categories: families, Mining - Tags:

The news coming out from the Pike River mine disaster is not sounding good. A short time ago The Herald was reporting:

Twenty-two hours on from an explosion at the West Coast’s Pike River mine and the message for families of the 29 trapped miners is bleak.

“We haven’t heard a thing,” Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall told a press conference this afternoon. There has been no contact with the miners since the explosion just before 4pm yesterday.

Air samples being taken from the mine were being analysed for traces of methane, carbon monoxide, ethane and other trace gases.

They especially wanted to see lowering levels of carbon monoxide but that had not happened yet, Mr Whittall said.

Tasman District police area commander Superintendent Gary Knowles said rescuers wanted to go into the mine but could not until it was safe to do so, and air quality tests were so far ruling that out.

“We are still waiting for a window of opportunity where we can do this. As the search commander I am not prepared to put people underground until we can prove it is a safe environment,” he said.

“We still remain positive, and we believe that once that window of opportunity opens we are ready to go.

Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas, and if the levels are too high for rescuers then it can only be extremely dangerous for anyone trapped below. Spare a thought tonight for the miners and their families.

37 comments on “Pike River fears grow”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas,

    It’s toxic and explosive. If the concentration’s high enough then you definitely do not want to go in there. The question would be: What are they doing to vent the place?

  2. hateatea 2

    While it would be nice to believe that no news is good news, it is starting to seem as if the only news will be bad. Please let me be wrong.

    Still praying and hoping

  3. Fisiani 3

    As a mark of respect please delete all the insensitive political references that have sadly been made on this topic. This tragedy transcends mere politics at least at this stage.

  4. Bill 4

    I hope I’m way off the mark, but why is nobody stating what would seem to be the obvious given the information we have been given?

    Rescue is a risky business. As such, calculated risks are taken. There is surely a plethora of personal safety equipment (breathing apparatus etc) and monitoring equipment on hand to mitigate potential or likely hazards to rescuers.

    That rescue co-ordinators are waiting for apparently totally safe conditions to return, would suggest that they are looking at a body recovery operation, no?

    Analogously, where possible a burning building is entered on the back of ‘calculated risk’ if people inside require rescue in spite of it being a far from safe environment. But no rescuers enter a burning building to recover bodies.

    Like I say. I hope I’m way off the mark, but talk of bringing the miners ‘back home’, as I heard it phrased on the news, would indicate otherwise.

    • Carol 4.1

      Well, it doesn’t seem a good situation to me. But an Aussie mining expert says it’s better to wait until it’s certain the environment is stable.

      I guess the most crucial point for those inside the mine was during the blast and immediately after. So, if they did manage to survive fpr a few hours, or over last night, they must have air and it’s be best not to risk triggering another explosion.

      • Bill 4.1.1

        In that link, Bruce Hebblewhite states that “It is absolutely essential to know there is no further risk of future explosions.”

        But I’d have thought you’d want survivors ( if that is the scenario you are working on) out before that happened. And the quicker you get in…unless an explosion is known to be imminent due to known concentrations of volatile gasses… the less gas is likely to have built up and so the less likely you are to encounter another explosion. No?

        • Jeremy Harris

          I’m guessing but as VoR points out below one assumes that that the rescuers will have to do some of what is essentially mining themselves to clear any obstructions in the shaft, essentially hitting rock with metal, it doesn’t matter what breathing apparatus you have, it cannot stop sparks in an atmosphere around you that is combustible…

          • Bill

            What obstructions? They verified?

            • Jeremy Harris

              Well no one has been down yet, so no, and I have heard the CEO claiming the shaft roof would stand any blast but if there aren’t then it begs a few questions, sadly none with pleasant answers…

              It seems that almost everything that can go wrong in a coal mine is something to worry about in the situation, whether there is more firedamp, afterdamp, whether coal dust is present in large quantities due to the explosion, whether the seam is in danger of catching, whether the blast damaged the shaft…

              The tests should give some answer about the damps down there… It’s a tradegy and doesn’t look good… I hope the injuries aren’t too bad and the miners found an air pocket…

    • KJT 4.2

      I think it is pretty obvious why they don’t want to risk a rescue team.

  5. ianmac 5

    Firemen are equipped with breathing apparatus. I would have thought that they could at least carry out a recce about 1km as far as the blockage. This would give an idea of just what the size of the problem is. Cannot understand why they haven’t. I must be missing something?

    • The Voice of Reason 5.1

      I think the worry is that there may be no blockage. Unlike the Chilean collapse, this was an explosion, probably of methane. There are likely to be pockets of the gas remaining, so the rescuers have to be sure that they do not accidentally provide a source of ignition and cause another blast.

    • ak 5.2

      My thoughts exactly Ian – do they even know if there is a blockage? and with the news that the tunnel itself is sufficiently robust to make a collapse “unlikely”, the lack of any contact becomes more ominous every minute….surely an early recce with BA was the way to go – and what the heck with having to send air samples away??? surely there’s on-site systems available as a matter of course (canaries?)

      • Armchair Critic 5.2.1

        surely there’s on-site systems available as a matter of course
        Of course. Portable gas detectors are small (about as big as a mid-1990s cellphone), cheap, reliable and pretty commonly used where dangerous gases are found.

  6. Eure Kismet 6

    Why are the police in charge of this rescue? I know Aotearoa Police like to put themselves in charge of everything, but as far as I know Deputy Commissioner Pope doesn’t have a degree in Mine Engineering.

    This is the same police force that let a South Auckland shopkeeper shot by robbers bleed to death, refusing to let an ambulance through long after the robbers had fled the scene. Apparently because they preferred to get all their ducks in a row for a possible arrest a kilometre away, rather than try to save a man’s life by letting an ambulance through their ‘cordon’.
    They told the ambulance men champing at the bit to get to their patient, that “it was just too dangerous”. Sounds like a familiar refrain from bureaucrats.

    For types like that having everyone do as they are told seems to be preferable to saving lives.

    I still find it difficult to comprehend why it is that the mine had no well rehearsed strategy to deal with gas leaks and explosions, one that swung into effect immediately rather than waiting for law enforcement to give a go ahead about an issue far removed from their area of expertise. Especially given the regular frequency with which methane gas and carbon monoxide leaks occur in coal mines.

    A brand spanking new mine that seems to have absolutely no incident management protocols other than dial 111.

  7. Carol 7

    There are a few hearsay comments indicating the mine has not been very safe from dangerous gasses in recent months:


    IMO, things don’t look that good for the people down the mine. I think the police team are not making the decision not to go in, on their own. They are being guided by reports from the people in charge of the mine conditions and testing. My guess is that they also probably think that the people inside the mine probably haven’t survived. It sounds like there’s an outside chance they may have found a pocket with breathable air, and are staying put.

    But I also think they’ve decided, one way or another, rushing into a mine full of hazardous gases, isn’t going to make that much difference to the chances of the trapped workers surviving.

  8. The Voice of Reason 8

    John Key: Restrained, dignified and modest at a time of crisis or a complete arsehole. You decide:

    Key said the government had received expressions of support from various overseas governments: “Prince William personally sent me an email to say his heart and thoughts go out to the miners.”

  9. rightofleftcentre 9

    As always in these circumstances armchair critics are to the fore. “Experts” who know more than the experts.
    But political point scoring?
    Shame on those posters.
    We should all be sending out thoughts and best wishes and prayers to the families.

    • ianmac 9.1

      I do not think that there are “armchair critics” here. Some of us have a very genuine concern and should feel free to explore options. Platitudes are not that helpful rightofleftcentre, given that there would not be one person who did not feel for the miners and their friends and families. John Key made it political by talking about his “personal message” from Prince William.

      • freedom 9.1.1

        he does appear confused by the difference between ‘Days in the Life of John Key’ and the protocols of being a Prime Minister, especially when dealing with dignitaries. Many of the “I spoke with.. I got a call from…” moments are not directed to Mr Key, they are directed to our Prime Minister so he can pass on the thoughts of others as is his duty.

        Mr Key, It was not intended as a personal message

      • Bill 9.1.2

        Anyone else pick up on the difference of gravitas that various politicians projected?

        John Key and Gerry Brownlie fronted the media in open necked shirts and casual attire (BBQ anyone?), while Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd fronted in conventional formal attire ‘befitting’ politicians commenting on an unfolding catastrophe. And then there was what was said….and yes, it is arguably all platitudes, but “I got emails” versus “These are our thoughts and this is the practical support we are offering” represents a gulf in respective positioning, no?

        As for the reticence to enter the mine and the apparent unpreparedness, I agree with Eure (above) and commented similarly on what seems to be a bureaucratic safety culture here.

        Of course, my comments are based only on available information and so could wildly off the mark. Which begs the question; why have our media not sought more precise information?

        Why have they not asked, for example, what gasses are suspected as being present?
        What ppm are those gasses present in?
        Are there no remote camera apparatus that can be entered into the mine to assess physical conditions?
        Could gas detectors not be fitted to such apparatus too?
        Why are those in charge insisting that the environment is (totally?) safe before allowing potential rescuers in when everyone knows that calculated risk to life and limb is part and parcel of any rescue operation in such circumstances?

        And finally, if the coordinators of the rescue are working on the assumption that the 29 miners are already dead and are looking at a recovery operation, then why are they not fronting up and saying so?

        The 30 minutes of oxygen that could have gotten miners to stored oxygen supplies wouldn’t have been much use if the explosion had rendered them unconscious…as happened to one of the men who exited the access tunnel.

        While on the one hand there seems to be a dogged adherence to a crippling ‘safety first’ attitude trumping potential rescue efforts, allowing families to hold out hope if the prognosis points a body recovery operation is bloody cruel and unnecessary.

        • The Voice of Reason

          I think you’re heading in the right direction, Bill, but don’t expect an early announcement that it’s moved to a recovery phase. The likely outcome was known from the start (the damage to the external vent was ample evidence of the force) but it’s simply not appropriate for the search and rescue people to say so until there is more evidence. They are not going to risk losing more lives when the explosion appears to have been unsurviveable.

          If, by some miracle, there are survivors, the wait will not necessarily make things worse for them, but if more lives are lost in a hasty effort to get to them, it will be a double tragedy.

          Don’t rely on Eure either. He can can Kismet arse, frankly. His comment that the safety system was ‘dial 111’ is moronic and an insult to the miners, who are more committed to safety than most workers in NZ will ever be. Because they know what incidents like this mean. There is a system used in these situations that is coordinated, fast acting and effective, as we have seen since Friday. The response has been nothing short of excellent, but that cannot alter the difficulty of the situation.

          • Bill

            Sorry VoR, but the response has been everything but ‘fast and effective’ ( oh, people turned up in a fast and effecitve fashion…But then everything stopped)

            And it’s not the miners who have to be committed to safety (as I’m sure they would be/are), but the managers/bosses. And they have to dragged screaming and kicking in industry after industry to institute good safety provisions.

            As for the 111 comment…Eure’s cynicism seems justified.


      • Vicky32 9.1.3

        True he did… I was disgusted to hear that last night…

  10. Sean Brooks 10

    The rescuers and the Police are doing everything right here, you dont want to rush in with all guns blazing.
    The experts will know what they are doing.

  11. Vicky32 11

    I am watching/listening to One News about the current situation… Those poor men! I am praying for their safe rescue…

    • Sanctuary 11.1

      While you are on your direct horn to the creator, ask him why he decided on blowing them up in the first place.


      • Vicky32 11.1.1

        Sorry, Sanctuary, that’s just childish… Whilst we don’t know what caused the explosion, blaming God directly for it, is juvenile – as God having chosen to do any such thing is on the far side of unlikely…
        Now, back on topic!

  12. tim 12

    Methane is always coming off coal in the mine, normally at a rate that it can be extracted from the mine. Very occasionally a mine will break into a pocket of methane and/or other explosive gasses that can not be extracted fast enough. This is one of many things that can trigger an explosion.

    The police are the designated authority in this situation but obviously they are taking advice.

    The risk to rescuers is very, very real. Concentrations of methane is very difficult to measure deep inside a mine. But this is not what all this talk of gas is really about. I believe that the mine is in fact on fire. It is a very dangerous place right now.

    We have many friends in the mine and they are very good people. Greymouth will struggle very much to cope with this. Obviously things are looking very grim but we hope and pray. All this speculation about whether the rescuers are doing the right thing is very misguided and hurtful. The rescuers are, by in large, friends and family of the miners trapped.

    A coal mine is a dark, hot, dirty and dangerous place where good men work and laugh together. Its men like these that started the Labour Party but I suspect they would find a lot of the stuff being said on this forum pretty bloody distasteful.

    • r0b 12.1

      No one means any disrespect to the miners of their families, of that you can be sure.

      But its a popular open forum, we certainly get all kinds of comments here. If miners found any post or comment on this blog distasteful, I hope that they would also be in agreement with our free speech policy, and the goals of what it is that we are trying to accomplish here.

  13. rightofleftcentre 13

    +1 to tim for the most relevant and rational post here.
    -1 to all the insensitive clever people in their armchairs at home who know better than the experts on site, and to those who want to sling political arrows during this incredibly difficult time for all directly affected by this tragedy.

    • Pascal's bookie 13.1

      I don’t see any one throwing political arrows, (excepting yourself). All I see is people asking questions in a difficult and distressing time. That’s what humans do. Personally when something like this happens I’m quite prepared to cut people a lot of slack for things they say.

      Criticising people for their human reactions is about the only exception to that rule.

      FFS, how about you just give your concern trolling bullshit a rest for a day or two eh? (If you want to dispute that interpretation of what you said, just ask yourself what exactly your comment added to the discussion.)

  14. Carol 14

    The actual description of the explosion and afterath make pretty grim reading. We have been told there was an explosion, but not how big it was:


    One of the guys who escaped was thrown 15 meters by the blast, there was a lot of debris flying around, and a fireball shot through the mine. Breathing was extremely difficult. It doesn’t look good for the rest of the people down there.

    Methane and CO2 seem to be the main gases that are causing the problem/danger plus some other gases.

    • joe90 14.1

      A mate in the industry tells me that if the miners had survived the blast the explosion would have consumed all the available oxygen in the mine and the resulting carbon monoxide will have created an unsurvivable environment.

  15. Sanctuary 15

    I disagree with the faux-pious demand that crisis itself is a reason for the stifling of debate on why this disaster might have occurred. People are rightly angry. Anger is a totally appropriate emotional response right now, so I don’t hold that we need to wait to calm down, or whatever. People are angry and to my mind in a situation where it looks like twenty nine men have died that makes an angry now a totally appropriate time to start asking the questions that need to be answered.

    If we are not angry, and we do not demand the answers angry people want and deserve, then Pike River and the government will do everything in their power to wiggle out of their responsibilities.

  16. rightofleftcentre 16

    The time for analysis of what happened will come when all the information necessary for such an analysis is available.
    The opinions and and anger expressed at this point in time are understandable but clearly only informed by what is available via the media.
    While it may make people feel better to vent such feelings, they are uninformed and based on conjecture. As such they add nothing to the situation other than to wind up angst.
    It is for that reason, Pascal, that I have chosen not to add “to the discussion”, but to point out the inappropriateness of many of the comments here – obviously needling some sensitive souls by doing so….. “trolling bullshit”?

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