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Pike River mine explosion: Day 4 as it happened

Published: 6:10AM Monday November 22, 2010 Source: ONE News / Newstalk ZB / NZPA

Live updates here on the ongoing situation at the Pike River coal mine on the West Coast where 29 people are missing after an explosion on Friday.

Tuesday's updates continue - click here

4:40am: Monash University engineer Gavin Mudd says the robot should be a useful element of the rescue plan. He said there is no point sending people into what could still be an extremely dangerous situation. Mudd said more information is needed on conditions inside the mine, hence the drilling and the robot to help plan a rescue.

4:30am: Secondary students on the West Coast seem to be taking some comfort from showing up for their classes. Greymouth High School principal Jim Luders said more students than expected turned up yesterday. He said most senior students were in for their exams, except those with family members trapped in the mine.

Luders said by and large students were in pretty good heart with most seeing school as a safe place to be, and taking solace from seeing familiar faces.

Strike action by secondary teachers has been cancelled in Greymouth and Reefton today, although it is expected to go ahead elsewhere.

4:20am: An Australian miner who knows only too well what it's like to be stuck underground, is offering support to the men at Pike River.

Brant Webb was trapped at the Beaconsfield gold mine for two weeks, with his colleague Todd Russell in 2006. He says he never gave up hope because of the strength of the mining community.

1:57am: It's now the fourth night since the Pike Mine explosion and some people say it doesn't matter how the rescue happens - they just need answers.

12:15am: It's likely to be after daybreak when the drill reaches the tunnel at the Pike River mine. A police spokesman says the drill has stalled because it's hit heavy rock, and it'll be slow progress from here on in.

10:30pm Police say a drilling operation to complete a bore hole is progressing well but reports the hole has been completed are incorrect. Police Incident Controller, Superintendent  Kelvin Powell, said contact with the coal mine base minutes ago indicated the drilling operation had got down to a depth of 142 metres however the crews had encountered heavy rock formations and a breakthrough was still some hours away.

Powell said all the emergency services, welfare agencies and the mining company continue working towards the common goal of rescuing the trapped miners.

Whittall explained to Close Up why rescuers can't just go into the mine. "It's like walking up the barrel of a gun," he said. "There's fresh air in the tunnel, people think that must be safe, but there's a bullet at the end and we don't know if it's going to go off at this stage. So there's no way anyone... is going to put anyone else in jeopardy until such a time as it can be proved to be safe."

7:50pm A risk assessment will be carried out tonight on the robot, that may be sent into the Pike River mine. Gary Knowles says the robot will be sent some distance into the mine tunnel to look at what's happening. It will will have the capability for video and camera-recording. 

7:40pm No rescue will be attempted tonight at Pike River Coal Mine. Mine experts say it's still too dangerous to send rescue teams into the mine, due to the possibility of secondary explosion or toxic gas.

7:15pm Dennis O'Dell, Health and Safety director for United Mines of America told Close Up New Zealand may need to look at safety provisions on NZ mines.
"I think they need to look at better communication systems and adding mine rescue chambers underground for the miners in the event they need oxygen, all those different things that are used throughout the world such as they use in the United States."

But Whittall said the NSW regulations and NZ regulations are different. "Places like Pike River coal look at best practice and that's what we did."

6:18pm: Summary of the latest developments:
- Drilling of the borehole should be completed within hours.
- Preparations continue to send in a Defence Force robot.
- Gas sampling continues.
- Police are keeping an open mind, including considering the possibility of loss of life.
- It remains a "search-and-rescue operation".
- More families have been to the mine today.
- John Key says he is confident about NZ mine safety.
- An inquiry is likely, but for now the focus is on rescuing the miners.

6:01pm: The miners' cap lamps would run out after about 24 hours, Whittall says. It would be hot and stuffy in the mine due to the lack of ventilation.

The media conference ends and the next scheduled update is at 10am tomorrow.

5:50pm: He has taken more families up to the mine today. He said: "There is no aggression in the groups I have taken up there at all." He said they are grateful at the work being done on their behalf.

5:43pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said the drilling of the borehole has been successful. A diamond drill bit is being used for the last few metres as it tackles harder rock.

"Once that hole is open we can start deploying a number of different techniques," he said. These include listening devices and further gas sampling. Multiple samples will be needed before a decision can be made on a rescue mission.

5:40pm: PRESS CONFERENCE STARTS: Superintendent Gary Knowles said it may be several hours before samples taken from the newly drilled borehole can be analysed. A video camera will be put down the new borehole if possible.

Planning for a major rescue operation is now underway. "We are still optimistic," he said. "We are keeping an open mind. We are planning for all possible outcomes including the loss of life."

It remains a "multi-agency search and rescue operation". 

5:09pm: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told her country's parliament the thoughts of every Australian go out to the families of the miners. "There is no disguising the gravity of this situation," Ms Gillard said. "We want nothing more than to see these 29 men brought to the surface safe and well. This is a hope that unites us and unites the world today. For the present, we wait and we hope."

4:56pm: A family briefing is currently being held at the Grey District Council office. Pike River CEO Peter Whittall describes it as a "routine briefing".

4:34pm: Prime Minister John Key reiterates that questions about how the mine explosion happened are for another day. The government is monitoring the situation and the priority remains rescuing the trapped miners. He says the safety record of NZ mines is very good.

4:11pm: Pike River Coal Mine chairman John Dow says it is unlikely a rescue attempt will be made today. He said drilling of an inspection bore hole to assess gas levels will be finished later this afternoon but he says it is not looking as though any rescuers will be able to get near the mine. He said mine rescue teams still consider the environment to be unsafe. They have drawn that conclusion from all the tests they've been doing  every half hour.

4:05pm: Summarising today's main points so far:
- The names of the trapped men have been released.
- Rescue teams are still on standby but have not had the go ahead to go into the mine.
- A Defence Force robot and remote gas sampling equipment are being readied for use at the mine.
- Drilling of a bore hole to provide a second place to take gas readings is progressing well.
- A fibre optic cable is being laid to aid air quality sampling.
- The Air Force will provide night vision equipment so testing can continue around the clock if necessary.
- Another group of relatives - two from each family - has been taken to the mine today and the prime minister has also paid a visit.

3:51pm: The Prime Minister is due to give an update at his weekly post-Cabinet briefing at 4.30pm. Police and Pike River will then hold another press conference in Greymouth at 5.30pm, which will be carried live in an extended ONE News bulletin and on

3:24pm: Vodafone says it has has put extra mobile cellsites in the region of the mine to increase capacity. It says all services in the area are working and additional 3G capacity will be available today. A satellite dish is also being put in to provide a free wifi hotspot where needed.

Families and volunteers are being given free local, national and mobile calls by contacting the Red Cross or 100% Ellery's in Greymouth.

3:12pm: The father of 21-year-old Zen Drew, one of the trapped men, still believes his son is alive. Lawrie Drew said: "We have got faith that they are going to come out ... but it's just how long is it going to take to find out for sure what's going on down there."

"We have just got to be strong for our loved ones and hope they come out. I hope they all walk out."

Meanwhile, rugby League coach Darry Coad, who has been training trapped miner Blair Sims, says he is a genuine and well liked guy. He says the news has come as a real shock.

2:51pm: The robot on standby at the Pike River mine site to assist with the rescue operation is accompanied by a team from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit. The robot is a battery powered vehicle that is capable of being remotely operated. The vehicle is able to perform reconnaissance, object retrieval and weapons delivery in situations that are hazardous to humans. It operates with four cameras. The robot is the same one used in last year's Napier siege.

2:32pm: Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has assured the New Zealand government that they are willing to do whatever it takes to help with the rescue. Rudd says a representative from Emergency Management Australia has been sent to New Zealand to quickly funnel whatever requests are made for equipment and expertise.

2:09pm: Police will hold a media conference at 5.30pm this evening at the Greymouth Police Station. They will brief the families of the trapped miners before they address the media. ONE News will start early at 5.30pm to screen this conference live and will provide live streaming.

1:40pm: Police, mine staff and OSH experts have been speaking with mine experts in West Virginia who globally have the most recent experience of dealing with this type of situation. Police say at this point those experts have concurred with the action taken at Pike River.

1:30pm: The operations team is currently assessing how a fibre-optic cable can be put in place and laid to the top of the hill at the mine, so that a camera can be installed to permanently monitor the vent. Police have also confirmed the army robot is on site and will be deployed if safe.

1:15pm: We have started a gallery of images of the men trapped at the mine. Check it out here. Police hope to have pictures of the rest of the men available later today.

12:45pm: Relatives of trapped Australian miner Willy Joynson are on their way to New Zealand to support his wife and the couple's two young children.

Joynson, 49, from Queensland's Fraser Coast, and Joshua Ufer, from Townsville, are among the 29 missing miners.

Joynson's sister Veronica Cook told AAP the family was very concerned and that their mother was not coping well.

She said Willy's other sisters and brothers were due to catch a flight to New Zealand later today to support his wife Kim and two sons, aged 10 and 13.

12:10pm: ONE News presenter Peter Williams was at this morning's press conference and said he noted that Superintendent Gary Knowles was today referring to the operation as "search and recovery", as opposed to "search and rescue" like he has previously.

12:05pm: ONE News reporter Charlotte Bellis is at the police cordon heading towards the mine. She says a number of emergency service vehicles have been through the cordon today, as has Prime Minister John Key. She says family members, along with Pike River CEO Peter Whittal, went through the cordon, to head up to the mine, 15 minutes ago.

11:05am: Watch this morning's press conference with Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall, Superintendent Gary Knowles and Prime Minister John Key.

10:35am: The following are the confirmed names of the men trapped in the mine.

(Name, Age, From, Nationality)
Conrad John Adams, 43, Greymouth, New Zealand
Malcolm Campbell, 25, Greymouth, British
Glen Peter Cruse, 35, Cobden, New Zealand
Allan John Dixon, 59, Rununga, New Zealand
Zen Wodin Drew, 21, Greymouth, New Zealand
Christopher Peter Duggan, 31, Greymouth, New Zealand
Joseph Ray Dunbar, 17, Greymouth
John Leonard Hale, 45, Ruatapu, New Zealand
Daniel Thomas Herk, 36, Rununga, New Zealand
David Mark Hoggart, 33, Foxton, New Zealand
Richard Bennett Holling, 41, Blackball ,New Zealand
Andrew David Hurren, 32, Greymouth, New Zealand
Jacobus (Koos) Albertus Jonker, 47, Cobden, South Africa
William John Joynson, 49, Dunollie, Australia
Riki Steve Keane, 28, Greymouth, New Zealand
Terry David Kitchin, 41, Rununga, New Zealand
Samuel Peter Mackie, 26, Greymouth, New Zealand
Francis Skiddy Marden, 41, Rununga, New Zealand
Michael Nolan Hanmer Monk, 23, Greymouth, New Zealand
Stuart Gilbert Mudge, 31, Rununga, New Zealand
Kane Barry Nieper, 33, Greymouth, New Zealand
Peter O'Neill, 55, Rununga, New Zealand
Milton John Osborne, 54, Ngahere, New Zealand
Brendan John Palmer, 27, Cobden, New Zealand
Benjamin David Rockhouse, 21, Greymouth, New Zealand
Peter James Rodger, 40, Greymouth, British
Blair David Sims, 28, Greymouth, New Zealand
Joshua Adam Ufer, 25, Australia
Keith Thomas Valli, 62, Wairio, New Zealand

10:30am: Prime Minister John Key has told the press conference he would like to thank everyone locally and internationally for their efforts in the rescue to date.

He reiterated that the rescue team is doing all it can.

"We're going to get through this and do everything we possibly can to get the men out alive and that's the single and sole focus of our attention at the moment."

10:25am: At the press conference, Pike River CEO Peter Whittall says they have drilled down almost 100 metres as of 7.00am. They need to reach 162 metres. For the last 10 metres they will need to change the drilling method to prevent sparking or other hazards.

Whittall also says two more bus-loads of family will go to the mine site today. up today. He dismissed reports of tension in the rescue effort.

"There's no tension, no niggles, nothing. The rescue service are getting all the support they can. I am very, very happy with the effort being put in. I am very proud of my people up there. They are working round the clock," he said.

"There is lots of extremely uninformed speculation and semi-informed speculation out there."

10:21am: The families of the missing miners' have agreed that their names should be released to the public. This will be done later this morning.

10:20am: Knowles says they have spoken to experts in the US who have suggested rescuers use seismic gear to listen on the ground for any movement underground. He says they will be deploying that equipment if possible.

10:15am: Superintendant Knowles says they have been in contact with the Defence Department and they will be utilising, if possible, a robot on site to go into the tunnel when the opportunity arises.

10:10am: A press conference updating the situation at the mine is underway.

Superintendant Gary Knowles says drilling commenced overnight and good progess is being made. He says the Department of Conservation has also agreed to allow a 2.7km path to be cut up to the main ventilation site.

9:50am: Family members of those trapped in the mine have just come out of their latest update.

Laurie Drew, the father of miner Zen Drew, says the situation hasn't changed.

But he says at the meeting he had many people come forward saying they support the stance he's taking of putting his hand up to go in.

9:40am: Shares in Pike River Coal and New Zealand Oil & Gas have been placed in a trading halt this morning on New Zealand markets.

Stock market operator NZX confirmed the expected trading halts at 9.30am before the market opens at 10am today.

Normally a trading halt is granted for one to two days pending a material announcement but Pike River will be as long as necessary.

9:20am: Pike River Coal chairman John Dow says sending a robot into the mine could make the situation more dangerous.

"The dilemma we have is that you can't operate in a gaseous environment like that with equipment that might be generating a spark and robots would be like that," he told Radio New Zealand.

9:00am: John Key says New Zealand will not be closing down its coal mining industry because of the Pike River disaster.

He says mines are an inherently dangerous environment, and you wouldn't want to close down an entire industry because one mine has a problem.

8:40am: Energy and Resource Minister Gerry Brownlee says there will be an inquiry into the mine blast incident.

"This is a very big disaster, and throughout the world, there will be a look at what went wrong here, as you get with any of these international events," he told TV ONE's Breakfast.

"Of course there will be a very significant inquiry. There may be a number of inquiries. But just where this all runs to at this stage is somewhat secondary to the effort to get those guys out."

8:30am: Drilling to gather better gas samples is making good progress, reports Newstalk ZB.

Pike River Coal Chairman John Dow says they are down to 92 metres. They need to get to around 150 metres.

8:25am: John Key has spoken of the messages of support he has received from around the world about the trapped miners.

He says he has received messages from US President Barack Obama, the Queen, Prince William and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"Right across the world, I think everyone is sitting there looking at New Zealand and hoping the outcome is the same that it was in Chile," he says.

8:15am: The chairman of Pike River Coal, John Dow, says the company will support a public inquiry into the explosion and its aftermath, but for now the focus is on rescuing the 29 miners.

However, he concedes a successful outcome is becoming a "longer shot" as the days go by.

"We hold out hope that the men have found a safe pocket in the mine and that they are sheltering there and waiting for us to get to them. But obviously with every passing day that becomes a longer shot possibility.

"We are hopeful that will be the case, we just want to reassure the families of the miners of what's going on," Dow told Radio New Zealand.

7:45am: The miners' families are due to be briefed on overnight developments at 8.00am. There is also due to be a press conference at 10am. TV ONE will broadcast this live. It will also be live streamed on

7:15am: Prime Minister John Key will be heading back to the West Coast this morning with both the British and Australian High Commissioners. They plan to be in the area for around four or five hours, speaking to both the rescue teams and the miners' families.

Key told TV ONE's Breakfast he understands the tension around the rescue.

"I think everyone feels an enormous amount of frustration, and I think we would do whatever it took to get in that mine - if it was safe."

6:50am: Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn has told TV ONE's Breakfast it is a "crunch day today" .

"We just have to get some type of resolution today or some movement forward, because the families' despair is turning into absolute grief," he says.

"There's a lot of tension out there today, too, because when you've got no resolution like we've got at the moment, there's a lot of speculation starting."

He said the good news is it is a fine day in the area today, which means helicopters will be able to access the ventilation shaft area.

He also spoke about the drilling of the bore hole in the mine.

"We'll be able to find out if there's air movement around the mine itself and if there's oxygen in other areas. If there's oxygen, there's hope."

6:45am: One of the two men who managed to escape the mine on Friday has told the NZ Herald he thought he was dead as he collapsed inside the mine moments after the blast.

Daniel Rockhouse told the newspaper the force of the blast knocked him off his feet and bashed his head against the rock wall.

He was able to put on his breathing apparatus as he was enveloped in thick white smoke which he said he knew was deadly carbon monoxide.

On his way to a fresh air point nearer the mine entrance he discovered Russell Smith lying semi-conscious and dragged him towards the entrance.

The two men were taken to Grey Base Hospital, treated on Friday and then released on Saturday.

6:35am: Some of the Chilean miners who were rescued earlier this year say they are praying for those trapped underground in New Zealand.

They say they hope with all their hearts the rescue mission will be successful.

6:30am: ONE News reporter Charlotte Bellis says it's believed the air tests overnight show gas levels are slowly decreasing, but are still fluctuating. She says work on drilling a bore hole into the mine in order to take further air samples also continued overnight. It is believed that process may be completed sometime today, all going well.

6:20am: Police Response Coordinator Superintendent Kelvin Powell said monitoring of air and gas levels continued overnight.

"This monitoring will allow first responders the earliest opportunity possible to judge when it is safe enough to allow teams to enter the mine and bring the men out," he said.

"This operation is a fine balancing act. We know families and friends are anxious to hear news of their loved ones and all response personnel are totally focused on bringing the men home."

6:05am: Tensions are beginning to show between the families of miners trapped on the West Coast, and those poised to rescue them.

Greymouth High School Principal Jim Luders says two former students and the fathers of three pupils are amongst the trapped men.

He says there has been some pressure being put on the rescue team to go into the mine as soon as possible.

5:25am: Canterbury University Senior Lecturer in Engineering Geology David Bell is familiar with the Pike River mine. He said explosions underground are extremely dangerous, and that people shouldn't ignore the potential for serious loss of life. He said survival will depend on where the miners were in relation to the explosion.

Click here for updates from yesterday and overnight.

Click here for updates from the first 48 hours.

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  • Jane Emerson said on 2010-12-02 @ 19:02 NZDT: Report abusive post

    hi my name is Jane Emerson & my husband is Peter. we are sending this to the families & work mates to let you know that we are thinking of you so much. our thoughts & prayers are with you all. kindest regards Peter & Jane Emerson.

  • mattdville said on 2010-11-24 @ 23:29 NZDT: Report abusive post

    My heart goes out to all the family and friends of the miners of this disaster.

  • Driver said on 2010-11-24 @ 21:21 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Before this event I never even thought of who in my eyes would I consider an attached hero. This tragic disaster has produced Peter Whittall. Ive said this already and Ill say it again. This man under the scrutiny of the press and public, held firm on his beliefs and knowledge, conveyed himself to new heights of professionalism and composure the like Ive never witnessed. You and your team took on the grief, the rescue and the criticism. Mate, in my eyes you are a true hero, god bless.

  • thinkaboutit said on 2010-11-24 @ 19:44 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Consideration should be given to flooding the mine with an inert gas such as helium or nitrogen to suppress fires and create an explosion proof environment to allow those who perished to be recovered and returned to their loved ones.

  • pasil said on 2010-11-24 @ 19:32 NZDT: Report abusive post

    My heart, thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of those whose lives have been lost, to everyone involved and to the township of Greymouth. NZ is thinking of you all.