AUTHORITIES IN NEW ZEALAND are attempting to make contact with 27 miners who are trapped after an overnight explosion caused massive damage to their underground coal mine.
Police say the explosion at the Pike River mine – on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island – appeared to have destroyed the mine’s ventilation system, meaning a race against time to try and free the workers before the air supply becomes depleted.
Two miners managed to escape the blast (which occurred at 2:30am Irish time) by scrambling to safety, but they had not been in contact with their 27 colleagues before getting out.
A specialist mine rescue team has arrived at the scene, but their ability to try and drill alternative exits for the trapped staff is further hampered by the absence of full ventilation – which means that any mechanical action could ignite a build-up of trapped gases.
Such a risk is particularly grave given the belief of experts that the explosion was triggered by a methane leak.
The alarm was only raised as to the fate of the miners after an electrician, investigating what was believed to be a routine power failure, travelled into the mine shaft and had discovered the driver of one loader who had been blown off his vehicle by the force of the blast.
A trade union official has said there was no indication of any kind of “heightened risk” ahead of the accident at the Pike river mine, who noted that the site had only been ni operation for about a year.
The Mayor of the nearby town of Greymouth has said the outlook was “not good” but said rescue workers would draw hope from the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners, who were freed last month after 10 weeks underground.