Third blast rocks New Zealand coal mine where 29 died

Friday, November 26, 2010

WELLINGTON - A third explosion rocked a New Zealand coal mine Friday, shortly before the nation observed a minute’s silence to mark the time the initial blast led to the death of 29 men a week earlier.

Although emergency services personnel were working on plans to try to recover the bodies of the men, after a second explosion Wednesday, nobody was near the mine at the time, Pike River Coal Ltd chairman John Dow told reporters.

“We’ve consistently said that this is a potentially explosive environment - this confirms that,” he said.

He said the explosion, observed on closed circuit television with smoke visible at the entrance to the tunnel, was smaller than the earlier ones and would not make any difference to plans to recover the bodies.

Earlier, Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall said cameras on a third robot sent into the tunnel revealed that the second blast had caused much more damage than the first one.

It had reached more than 1,500 metres into the tunnel before being blocked by the loader abandoned after last Friday’s explosion by Daniel Rockhouse - one of only two men to escape the mine after the initial blast.

Dow said the company had to assess how much damage had occurred underground before it could rebuild the mine. “Clearly we won’t be a coal mine for a while,” he said.

Staff will be paid until after Christmas, he said, while authorities worked on plans to recover the bodies when it is safe to do so and repair the pit for the resumption of mining.

A national memorial service is to be held Thursday at a racecourse outside Greymouth, the main town on the west coast of the South Island, which overlooks the hills where the dead miners are entombed.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

will not be displayed