Miners mood good during drama


Trapped miners read 3-month-old newspapers and played cards while hiding safely inside an emergency chamber during this week's underground mine fire.

Miner Steve Sant, one of 28 miners trapped inside Newmont Waihi Gold's Trio mine, said the workers in his chamber had an air supply from the surface and they were not scared during the ordeal, which lasted a total of seven hours.

Mr Sant spent five hours inside the chamber and said the mood was good. The chamber had radio and telephone connections to the surface so staff were able to reassure family that all men had been accounted for.

The fire broke out on a 35-tonne dump truck and shut down the mine early on Tuesday.

The truck's driver was 100m underground in the main tunnel and headed to the surface when thick smoke from the engine began to fill his cabin about 5am.

The driver parked, alerted mine bosses to the smoke and hitched a ride with another truck to the surface before the smoking truck burst into flames, shutting down the mine and trapping the 28 workers underground in three refuge chambers.

An investigation into the fire will probe whether seven hours was too long for 15 of the workers to be trapped in one of the refuge shelters. The other 13 miners, who were in the other two shelters, were evacuated sooner than their colleagues.

Mr Sant, who had worked at Newmont for eight years, said he and his co-workers knew they would get out and it was just a matter of when.

He also thought it was a drill when the emergency alarm sounded.

Last month, miners had two safety drills and this week's emergency response ran like clockwork.

"It makes you realise drills are worth it," he said.

"I have no concerns about going back down the mine."

His family were concerned when they heard he was one of the miners trapped but were okay once he spoke to them when he was on the surface.

The fire is now out and yesterday mine staff got close enough to the burnt-out truck to get photos.

Newmont Waihi Gold general manager Glen Grindlay said the front tyres were destroyed but the back four were still inflated and could still cause a problem if they exploded.

Department of Labour staff have been underground, examined the refuge chambers and have been taking statements from workers.

Police forensics will examine the truck.

The mine was expected to remain closed today.

Newmont Waihi Gold external affairs manager Sefton Darby said that little was known about the maintenance of the burnt truck.

Mr Darby said regular maintenance of dump trucks included having them inspected by the driver before every 12-hour shift, daily servicing by a mechanic and a "full, thorough service" every 250 hours, which is about once a fortnight. The maintenance history and records of the burnt truck will be scrutinised.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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