Latest updates: Pike River mine blast

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We bring you the latest updates from the West Coast where 29 miners are trapped inside the Pike River coal mine.

Prime Minister John Key and Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee in Greymouth. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Prime Minister John Key and Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee in Greymouth. Photo / Herald on Sunday

7.20pm: That's the end of our live updates for today - we'll be back tomorrow morning with the latest news.

7.02pm: Police will tomorrow discuss the release of a full list of the trapped miners.

6.33pm: Coal cutter Russell Smith, one of two miners who escaped on Friday, has spoken out about the incident.

"I was an hour late so didn't get up the mine until late. If I did I was probably up the face with the rest of them and would be trapped there," he told 3 News.

"I could have been blown to bits."

Because he wasn't as far into the mine as the others, he said the explosion was not as strong when it hit.

Smith recalled seeing a flash before being knocked unconscious.

"My hat was ... torn off me," he told 3 News. "I remember struggling for breath."

He was found about 15m away from his vehicle and together with Daniel Rockhouse eventually found his way out of the mine.

5.43pm: National's West Coast MP Chris Auchinvole says locals are rallying in the wake of the Pike River blast.

"The community is a very resilient one on the West Coast, and they are calling on their resilience now," he said on TVNZ's Q&A today.

"The level of community support for the families concerned is unlimited, and it's going to stay that way."

He went on to say that "there are ways that people can support the coast without telling them they shouldn't be going mining".

5.21pm: Lawrie Drew, whose son 21-year-old Zen is among those trapped, told Radio Live this afternoon he continued to hold out hope but had to be realistic.

Mining was a "pretty risky operation at the best of times, he said.

He was among a group of relatives who travelled up to the mine this morning.

"Some of us got a bit upset when we saw the tag board ... we're just hoping they are there in a pocket down there."

5.02pm: Arrangements are being made to fly in relatives of the five trapped foreign miners, AFP reports.

4.45pm: A Pike River employee says Friday, the day of the blast, was a "good, normal day".

Brent Shefford, of Blaketown, was working the day shift prior to the explosion.

He told the Greymouth Star there was no fluctuation in the amount of gas present while he was working on Friday, according to gas meters, and he had not heard of any in the time after he left.

"It was a good, normal day. There was nothing unusual.

"I think (the media) need to give the families a bit of space. I'm hoping that (the miners) are all going to get out."

He said usually he would have finished his shift at 3.30pm - less than an hour before it happened - but he got out some time around 2pm.

"I didn't have a watch on, though."

A friend informed him of what had occurred later on that afternoon, ringing him about 4.30pm.

"We were long gone when it happened. Most of (the trapped miners) I knew but I've only been working there for about six weeks."

4.25pm: This infographic details the layout of the Pike River mine.

4.07pm: An Australian rescue expert flown in to assist has told of the "slow and frustrating" process to date.

NSW Mines Rescue general manager Paul Healey said it was a frustrating wait as a borehole is drilled to an area where the men are expected to be located.

Mr Healey explained that risk assessments would hold up rescue efforts with protocols insisting that all data "must be understood and within acceptable range before proceeding".

"This is sometimes a slow and frustrating process, but experience has shown that it is necessary," he told AAP.

NSW Mines Rescue Group, a division of Coal Services Australia, is working closely with New Zealand incident command, which is overseeing the rescue effort at Pike River.

3.48pm: People around the country are praying for the safe return of the 29 trapped miners. Click here to submit your messages of support.

3.22pm: NZ Mines Rescue manager Trevor Watts says "we're still in the gun barrel", meaning that the Pike River mine tunnel remains potentially explosive.

"At the moment we are in rescue mode," Mr Watts said in response to a suggestion that the miners may have come to harm.

"The analysis we have at the moment suggests that something else is occurring, but there's limited information."

3.20pm: NZ Mines Rescue manager Trevor Watts says one of the trapped miners belongs to his organisation, though "the whole lot of them are our brothers."

3.17pm: Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles said the rescue effort would not be a quick fix.

"This still remains a rescue operation," said Knowles.

"We are into day two and we have no idea how long this is going to take."

Trevor Watts, manager of NZ Mines Rescue said his organisation had been around since 1930, with one of its main stations being located near the Pike River mine.

"The safety of our personnel is paramount," as well as that of the trapped miners, Mr Watts said.

"The analysis has been completed by some of the most highly-respected experts in the world."

Mr Watts said the "long reconnaissance" would be carried out on foot.

"The logistics of deployment underground are quite vast. This is not like walking down to the local supermarket. The terrain is an underground mine."

Mr Watts said he could give rescuers a gas mask and send them into the mine.

"It's just not that simple."

3.09pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said it was distressing to hear the story of how the first miners emerged from the Pike River coal mine.

"They're both okay and home with their families."

"In regard to what conditions there would be for the men ... gold mines are thousands of metres down and that's not the case for us."

3.01pm: The first pictures from the Pike River mine are currently being broadcasted on television.

2.23pm: Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn is worried about the economic impact on the town after the blast at the Pike River coal mine, where 29 workers remain trapped.

Pike River employs 150 workers who earn upwards of $80,000 a year.

"It's a lot of money that washes through the economy and I have to worry about the long term future of work there, so many jobs and so many spin off benefits to the town,," Mr Kokshoorn told NZPA.

2.18pm: Labour leader Phil Goff has arrived in Greymouth.

Mr Goff said he was in town to extend his sympathies and to tell the families of the trapped miners that his party's thoughts and prayers were with them.

1.37pm: Praying for a miracle, hundreds attended church services in Greymouth today.

Candles were lit by the congregation at the Holy Trinity church.

"We are praying for a miracle, but we are all aware it might not come."

1.07pm: Hopes for an attempted rescue of 29 trapped miners are rising as gas levels continue to trend downward at Pike River Coal Mine.

Tasman District police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn said conditions in the mine look to be stabilising.

She encouraged people to be cautious with their optimism, however.

"We're dealing with an unstable situation here."

12.49pm: "I'd just like to pass on thoughts to the people at Pike River Coal," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said after his side's victory over Ireland in Dublin this morning.

"I know they are going through a hard time at the moment, I hope things work out positively. Our thoughts and prayers from the All Blacks go out to you people and stay strong."

12.33pm: The families who had earlier journeyed to the Pike River mine are now on their way back to Greymouth.

11.46am: Families of the 29 men trapped miners will only be able to make a short visit to the emergency site, according to police.

Greymouth police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn said family members will be returning soon from the visit to the Pike River Coal Mine.

Terrain in the area is difficult and the mine site remains volatile, she said.

"There's not going to be a vigil."

11.44am: United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had recently visited New Zealand, has sent a message of support.

"Our prayers are with the missing miners and their families after the November 19th explosion at the Pike River mine in New Zealand," she said in a statement.

"I witnessed the courage and resilience of New Zealanders firsthand earlier this month, and it is my hope that all 29 men still inside are safe and will be rescued."

11.41am: Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union general secretary Andrew Little said Pike River had done a good job in keeping the miners' families informed.

No specific concerns have been raised with the union about safety practices at the mine, he said.

11.39am: Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, who is in regular contact with the families, said there was a period yesterday of "bottom-line despair" when rescue workers had to be taken off the mine site.

Hopes had lifted slightly today because those teams were back at the site, he said.

"There's no doubt about it, there is a lot of despair amongst them," he said.

"There's a sober feeling amongst them all. They are just trying to buoy themselves along and encourage each other as a community, and holding on to the vision that the search and rescue exercise will activate at any time."

11.32am: Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union boss Andrew Little has arrived on the West Coast to support the miners.

11.06am: The two busloads of relatives have arrived at the Pike River mine, where they will speak with rescue personnel.

10.42am: Pike River Coal chairman John Dow says he is not prepared to name the 29 trapped miners as some extended family still haven't been notified about the emergency.

"We've got people arriving in Greymouth who've only just learned and people overseas who still don't know."

10:41am: Pike River Coal chairman John Dow says the 29 men will be able to communicate through the shaft if they are alive and sheltering in a pocket of air.

It would be the first word from them since an explosion in the mine at 3:42pm Friday.

"If they're near enough they'll be able to hear the drill coming. It's quiet underground," says Mr Dow.

"When we do break through we want to be able to give an official pronouncement that they're alive."

10.24am: Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan has been in contact with New Zealand Prime Minister Jon Key to offer any Australian assistance required at the mine disaster site, reports AAP.

Australia has moved quickly to help in rescue effoerts for the 29 miners, including two Australians, trapped in the Pike River coal mine on the west coast of the South Island.

Dangerous conditions are hampering the effort to locate the missing miners, with methane gas levels in the mine shaft too high to allow rescuers to enter.

NSW has sent eight rescue experts, Queensland has dispatched four personnel and the federal government has sent a technical expert from Emergency Management Australia.

Another team of 12 mine rescue experts from Queensland remain on standby.

10.23am: Don't forget that if you're on Twitter, you can keep up with updates via the "official" hashtag: #PikeRiver. You can follow us at twitter.com/nzherald.

10.02am: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said Air New Zealand had offered employee support people to help the families, which Pike River had accepted.

"They've mobilised nearly 30 people to Greymouth and we will be allocating one support person to each of the families, so they will have a direct communication, a direct update, someone to help with the logistics and they will have direct communication with us."

Buses will take a few representatives from each family to the site this morning and it will be explained to them what is going on with the rescue effort.

"They'll be able to get off, walk around, have a look at the emergency services that are being set up - just have a touch and feel and...understand what's going on."

9.36am: The United States Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner said the Governor of West Virgina has offered to assist with the Pike River rescue effort.

Huebner said via Twitter that mine rescue experts from the state, said to be the US' leading producer of underground coal, are "weighing in" on the situation.

9.30am: Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn has called for the names of the 29 trapped miners to be released.

He told TVNZ's Q+A this morning that tension is rising in Greymouth as families await the return of their loved ones.

"You can feel the tension now. They just want their men back."

Today will be vital to efforts to rescue the men from Pike River Coal Mine, he said.

"This is a crucial, crucial day. There is hope out there and until someone tells us otherwise we're hoping that they're coming out."

9.13am: "After an incident like this there would be a very significant inquiry," Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee has told TVNZ's Q+A.

"There is an absolute focus on health and safety."

He said he had not yet spoken to the two miners who had already escaped from the mine.

Mr Brownlee said it was unfair to suggest that the operation should be a recovery mission as opposed to a rescue.

"The desire still is to get in there and get people out."

9.09am: Two buses have arrived at the Grey District Council offices to ferry family members up to the Pike River mine.

9:02am: Tasman district police commander Gary Knowles said he would be taking the families to the mine shaft today to talk to mining experts.

"They're pretty distraught, to be honest. The priority is getting them up to the mine," he said.

A working phone line out of the mine has still not been used.

8.44am: Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall said a rig will today attempt to drill 150 metres into the Pike River mine.

He expects the drilling to break through this evening.

The quality of oxygen being extracted from the mine is still high, says Mr Knowles.

There is still a compressed air line pumping oxygen somewhere along the shaft where the 29 miners are trapped, he says.

"The quality of the air coming out of the mine is still high."
He defended the safety practices of Pike River Coal.

"I'm very confident not only the systems we put in place but the management we put in place are totally dedicated to safety."

8.37am: The press conference is over.

The most recent air samples were taken from the mine around 8pm yesterday and showed potential for an explosion. Testing will resume today.

NZPA reports that families of the miners will be taken to the mine today so they can see what is happening at the site.

8.33am: Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles said he would not send rescuers into the Pike River Coal Mine until he is assured it is completely safe.

"We're not going to put 16 people underground and lose them to effect a half-arsed rescue."

8.30am: "There's two types of scenarios" in terms of the miners' survival and safety of the mine, Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said. One was the issue of toxic gas, the other was the available air to breathe.

He said fresh air was still being blown into the mine, but did not know where it was going.

8:28am: Expectations of the miners' survival were the "six million dollar question" and officials were unable to provide a clear answer.

8.26am: The families of the Pike River miners were "distraught" at being told that the mine was too unsafe to enter, says Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles.

He said briefings were being given every hour.

8:24am: Gas samples taken at the Pike River mine this morning show high levels of carbon dioxide and methane.

A mine employee has been appointed to provide support to the miner's families.

8.20am: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall says air samples taken late yesterday afternoon indicate there is still a risk of explosion in the coal mine. However, the air quality is improving.

He says the mine is still not safe enough for a rescue team to enter it.

8.19am: Families of the 29 trapped miners are still holding out hope that the men are alive.

Outside the Grey District Council offices, Tasman police district commander Superintendent Gary Knowles spoke before this morning's media conference, saying police were still running a "rescue operation."

"We always remain optimistic, to be honest. These people still hold out hope and we are going to keep supporting them on that. We are still remaining positive and we still have every opportunity to get underground and bring these guys out."

"The families want reassurance that we are doing everything humanly possible, which we are. They want to know the various phases we are going through, what we are committing and we are giving them that reassurance. You've got to understand these people are grieving and hurting."

The methane gas levels in the mine were fluctuating, Mr Knowles said.

"We are still dependent on the gas levels dropping and we have got to be realistic around that."

8.13am: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall and Tasman district police commander Gary Knowles are expected to speak at the media conference shortly.

Police have said they are still treating the operation as a rescue.

8.10am: Pike River says it has had offers of assistance from overseas.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has offered her country's assistance, and New South Wales' Mines Rescue Service is among those prepared to join the rescue effort.

"We've had calls from Chile," Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn told 3 News.

8.03am: Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn says the families of the Pike River miners are showing the emotional toll after having heard nothing of their "fathers and sons" for two days.

"I can really see despair coming off their faces now," he told Newstalk ZB.

There has been no decision yet on when the rescue effort can begin.

8.00am: Grim-faced families of the Pike River miners have begun emerging from a briefing at the offices of the Grey District council. Some have been crying and others have been embracing each other as they leave. A media conference is to be held shortly.

7.42am: Tests on the air quality in Pike River mine are set to resume this morning as rescuers impatiently wait to attempt to retrieve the trapped miners.

7.26am: The Black Caps and the All Blacks have contacted New Zealand with messages of support for the Pike River mining community.

"The team was shocked by the news," New Zealand cricket captain Daniel Vettori said during the Black Caps' test match against India in Nagpur.

"Players heard about the incident when they woke this morning. Family and friends sent updates and there was a brief news article in the local paper."

"Everyone is hoping that the miners are okay," Vettori added.

"Our thoughts are with the families and the Pike River community."

Before this morning's rugby test against Ireland, captain Richie McCaw said his team and management shared the concerns "of all New Zealanders."

"Even though we are thousands of miles from home, our thoughts and hearts go out to the miners and their families" said McCaw.

NZ Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew and president John Sturgeon are among the senior officials travelling with the team.

"Our thoughts are with the miners and their families as they go through this anxious time," said Tew.

"Everyone here in Dublin is feeling the impact of the news, especially having John Sturgeon here with us. He is in contact with his family and friends back home and we are giving him our support also."

7.10am: It is an overcast morning in Greymouth, where family and friends of the Pike River miners have gathered at the offices of the Grey District council for a morning briefing as a large contingent of media wait across the road.

7.00am: Good morning, and welcome back.

A press conference on the status of the Pike Mine rescue operation is scheduled for 8am.


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