Emotions spill over in New Zealand coal mine drama

No contact yet with 29 men trapped underground after explosion

Relatives of one of the 29 miners trapped in the Pike River Mine embrace while leaving a meeting in Greymouth, New Zealand, on Saturday. REUTERSAir quality tests were being taken at the ventilation shafts, adding to the agonising wait for family and friends of the miners, who range in age from 17 to 62.

It was unclear authorities would launch a rescue attempt on Sunday and police were expected to brief families again on Sunday on what the authorities planned to do.
Anger, despair.

The mayor of the Grey district, who briefed family members on the gas dangers earlier, said frustration was starting to show. “There’s a little bit of anger, there’s a little bit of despair. It was the most emotional meeting yet,” Tony Kokshoorn said. “There’s tension building all round, people aren’t talking about the worst, but I can see it on their faces.”

The explosion was likely to have been caused by methane gas, Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall told a news conference in Greymouth, the nearest town to the mine on the rugged South Island’s west coast.

“The air quality tests from the samples taken on Saturday morning have been inconclusive,” Whittall told reporters, adding testing was continuing.

District police commander Superintendent Gary Knowles said there was a “fine balance” in deciding when to allow rescuers into the mine.

The small size of the search area in the two-year-old mine and the time to plan and prepare while the air is checked meant the actual search itself would be quick, Knowles said.

“Once that window of opportunity opens, we only need a short timeframe to get in there, look at what’s down there, and make a decision about what we are going to do,” Knowles said.

Tearful family members and friends, hugging and embracing each other, left after a meeting with officials but refused to talk to media.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said offers of help and support had flooded in from around the world.

“This is a time of huge anxiety and concern for the miners and their families, and our hearts and thoughts go out to them,” Key said.

Whittall said underground communications were down, except for one emergency phone which rescuers had been calling constantly without anyone picking up.

Comments (+)