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.

There has been no news of the 29 trapped miners since a blast at the Pike River coal mine sealed them in on Friday afternoon. Photo / Simon Baker
There has been no news of the 29 trapped miners since a blast at the Pike River coal mine sealed them in on Friday afternoon. Photo / Simon Baker

6.18pm: TVNZ reports that Greymouth has become the centre of "unwelcome" global attention.

Students directly affected by the Pike River emergency would be exempt from exams this week, the broadcaster reported.

6.15pm: Safety at Pike River has come under scrutiny today, with suggestions being made that Australian mines are run to higher standards than those in New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key said he put questions directly to Pike River over the mine's methane levels and was told there had been no warning signs.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee has said that there will be an inquiry into the mine.

6.08pm: People in Greymouth say that knowing the names of the trapped miners at Pike River has made the ordeal more "real" for them.

Joseph Dunbar, aged 17, was due to start work at the mine today but begged for permission to start early.

6.06pm: As with previous media briefings, there had been no details available about the status of the miners themselves.

Over the past few days, Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles has repeatedly told journalists that no rescue attempt would be made until it had been proven safe to do so.

6.03pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said there is no food stored underground, but water would be available in pipes.

He said the miners would have to be eating whatever they had brought in for their shifts.

Mr Whittall said it would be "quite hot" in the mine and he did not want to speculate further on what that might mean for the trapped men.

6.00pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said the second bore hole would be located nearer to where the trapped miners are understood to be.

Mr Whittall repeated to assembled media that the robot would not be deployed until it was safe to do so.

Until then, "it won't go past the cordon" because of the risk of a secondary explosion.

Mr Whittall said that staff had spent the day testing the robot, ensuring its battery was charged and making certain that it could travel over two kilometres to the mine.

5.57pm: Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles said sending a robot into the mine would not happen until the risk mitigated by the device could be removed.

Mr Knowles said it was known where the miners were deployed to and said that blast survivor Daniel Rockhouse gave a good account of their last-known locations in the mine.

That didn't mean they would have remained in the same place, he said.

5.55pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said he hasn't had a long look at the operations room.

He said that according to information given by blast survivor Daniel Rockhouse, the a robot could negotiate its way past the loader machine that was damaged in the mine on Friday.

5.51pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said he had established mines in Australia that had supply caches including caver gear and self-rescuers.

The Pike River mine was "too small" to house caver gear, he said.

Mr Whittall said a self-rescuer, cap lamp, batteries, hard hat, steel-capped boots, protective clothing, safety glasses, ear plugs and basic personal protective equipment were standard gear for a miner.

5.48pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said he continued to get the "same answers" and was unable to give miners' families any new information.

"There's no aggression in the groups I'm taking up there. We're all in this together."

Mr Whittall said some family members had had "a few technical misunderstandings."

5.41pm: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said he led another group of family members to show them the mine and have their questions answered.

Mr Whittall said the drill "hit some very hard rock" 20 minutes ago, indicating that the drilling phase was entering its final part.

"Once that hole is open, we can start deploying a number of different techniques," he said. These would include laser and video equipment, and workers would be able to take gas samples.

Mr Whittall said another bore hole had been opened and one sample had been taken. The hole was located near where Daniel Rockhouse had left the mine after surviving the blast on Friday.

He said the NZ Defence Force's robot could only operate safely in fresh air, so a clean air sample would be "like gold."

"We are still in a hazardous environment," Mr Whittall said. "That's the only information I've got for you."

5.36pm: Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles said he would quote directly from the experts giving him updates.

He said there was still a risk of ignition in the mine because of heat and gas.

"We need to establish beyond reasonable doubt that an ignition source does not exist," in order to ensure the safety of the trapped miners and their would-be rescuers.

"In terms of drilling, it's progressing extremely well."

Mr Knowles said he expects there to be "some kind of result" once the drilling is completed.

He said there would be a "very thorough" risk assessment before a robot would be sent into the mine.

Mr Knowles said officials were now in a "major search and rescue planning phase" and that they were considering all outcomes, including the loss of lives.

"It is a search and rescue operation. We will keep pushing on until we get a result," he said.

The families are continuing to be briefed with new updates.

5.32pm: Rescuers at the mine told the Prime Minister that they knew they had to wait and be absolutely certain of their safety before they could enter the Pike River mine, TVNZ reported.

5.19pm: Todd Russell, one of two Australian miners trapped in the Beaconsfield mine in 2006, has spoken about the bond between miners.

Mr Russell told AAP that small mining communities like Beaconsfield and Greymouth tended to bind together in tough times.

"All you can do is stick together as one, use each other, rely on each other, and keep yourself motivated," he said.

3.57pm: Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says the government is doing all it can to help with the rescue effort at the Pike River coal mine.

Townsville-born Josh Ufer, 27, and father-of-two Willy Joynson, 49, from Queensland's Fraser Coast, are among 29 miners missing following Friday's blast.

Mr Rudd told Sky News he had been in touch with both families.

"They are doing it very tough ... (but) they are dealing with a very difficult situation very well," Mr Rudd said.

3.53pm: The New Zealand Defence force confirmed it was providing a specialist robot with a team to help police at the mine.

It said the robot normally operated with four cameras, two for movement and two on the arm for weapon placement/aiming.

Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said the Defence Force robot would not be sent into the mine while there was any chance of it causing a spark.

3.28pm: Gas samples being taken at the West Coast mine's main ventilation shaft were still showing high levels of carbon dioxide and methane, and a rescue attempt today was unlikely, Pike River Coal chairman John Dow said.

3.15pm: A siren has been heard sounding around Greymouth.

3.05pm: The father of Stuart Mudge, one of the miners trapped at Pike River, said it has been his son's "dream come true" to work at the coal mine.

Stephen Rose said his 31-year-old son was "fit, very strong and very healthy" and that working in the mine gave him mateship and "an outlet for his energy".

1.42pm: Details are emerging about the backgrounds of the Pike River miners since police confirmed their identities earlier today.

Malcolm Campbell is due to marry his Kiwi fiancée next month, while another of the trapped men was working his first shift at the mine at the time of the explosion.

1.41pm: Family members of the trapped Pike River miners are generally pleased to know that the names of their loved ones are now known by the wider public, rather than them just being known as the "29 miners."

12.45pm: Almost 300 messages of support have been left at nzherald.co.nz by people from New Zealand and around the world. Click here to read them and to add your own.

12.31pm: South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation hopes New Zealand authorities can recreate the "miracle" rescue of 33 miners who were recently trapped underground in Chile, reports local outlet Eyewitness News.

Meanwhile the South African International Relations Department's Saul Molobi said his nation remained hopeful.

"We are saying all of our prayers especially to the families of the miners," he said.

"We wish they could be able to be saved, and they return home safely."

12.13pm: 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.

Mr 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.

"He is a very good father to his kids. He's an excellent person. A hard worker," Ms Cook said.

She said her brother planned to return to Australia in January.

12.00pm: Tasman district police commander Gary Knowles said after three days without contact, the situation remained "grave" but he said drilling at the site was continuing and progress was going well.

11.56am: In a hurry? Read the five things you need to know about the Pike River coal mine blast.

11.20am: New Zealand Oil and Gas shares have this morning been suspended from trading on the New Zealand stock exchange.

The company owns 29 per cent of Pike River Coal.

In a statement, the company said it extended its "thoughts and sympathies to the men trapped at the Pike River Coal mine, their families, friends and colleagues."

"NZOG has had a long and close association with the Pike River coal mine. The project was developed by NZOG over two decades before Pike River Coal Ltd was publicly floated in 2007, and NZOG retains a significant stake in the company.

Like all New Zealanders, we are hoping for the best possible outcome from the rescue and recovery mission."

11.12am: Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles read out the names and ages of those missing down the mine at this morning's press conference.

"It is really important that we start putting names to our people, so that people know who they are and they are not nameless faces," he said prior to reading them out.

"The situation still remains grave given that we have not had contact with the men now for three days. Every effort is being made to carry out a rescue."

The names of the missing miners can be read here.

10.53am: Tasman district police commander Gary Knowles said the Department of Conservation, who own the land on which the mine sits, has agreed to allow a 2.7km path up to the main ventilation site to be cut, which will make it easier for sample testing to occur. The site is currently only accessible by helicopter.

Mr Knowles said they were also looking at sourcing fibreoptic cable that will run from base camp up to the site so we can visually monitor anything that is coming out of the top of the shaft.

10.43am: There will be a time to reflect what went wrong and what lessons can be learned from the Pike River blast, Prime Minister John Key said.

"It goes without saying that there will be a number of inquiries."

10.41am: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said for the final 10 metres of drilling into the mine, the drill bit will be changed to a diamond-tipped bit in order to reduce sparking once the drill breaks through.

"This is the first mine I have ever worked in that has had this happen," he said of the blast at the mine.

"This is a unique event. We have risk management. Safety management plans, we have ventilation management plans. We have first response management plans."

Mr Whittall said more family members would be taken up to the mine today.

10.38am: Prime Minister John Key said that he doesn't know what has caused the explosion at Pike River, in response to questions about whether the region is too unsafe to mine.

He said the region has had a good safety record.

10.37am: Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles said that results from the air sample tests remained "inconsistent."

10.32am: Tasman police district commander Gary Knowles said that the use of a robot in the mine would be carried out in partnership with the NZ Defence Force, and stressed again that it would not be used too soon.

"This needs to be a safe environment where it won't create another spark," he warned.

He said that the exercise remains a "search and recovery operation."

10.29am: Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand has a good mining safety record, but might need to "reflect" on its safety standards if they are found to be out of step with those practiced in Australia.

10.27am: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall said that it was obviously an unsafe situation at the time of Friday's blast at the mine, but that there had been no concerns leading up to the incident.

Mr Whittall said "all information is gold" and said that the information he had at hand remained limited.

He said that the use of laser and camera equipment in the mine once the access hole is drilled would provide much more information.

"It's coming to a point where we'll know the circumstances," he said.

10.25am: Prime Minister John Key said the Pike River community and the people of Greymouth were experiencing "testing times."

"I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone working on the rescue. I know that people are working very, very hard."

Mr Key said he intended to visit the rescue site and speak to the rescue team.

He also said he had received messages of support from various world leaders, including US President Barack Obama.

10.23am: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall has expressed pride in his staff and those involved the wider rescue effort.

"As you can imagine, it's fairly strained for my staff and all the registered services. We just want to reinforce from the company's point of view that we are really, really pleased" with the co-operation of all personnel involved.

"It's natural to speculate on what's built up to this. At the moment we are focusing on rescuing those people," he said.

Mr Whittall said there was a lot of "uninformed" and "semi-informed" information circulating in the media, and said reports did not truly reflect what was happening at the mine.

"The story is the men on the ground. My staff. My friends."

10.20am: The families of the trapped miners are holding onto hope that their loved ones will emerge alive from the mine.

Lawrie Drew, whose 21-year-old son Zen is one of the 29 trapped in the Pike River coal mine, said he was hoping for a positive outcome.

"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," Mr Drew said after this morning's briefing.

10.17am: Pike River CEO Peter Whittall praised the efforts of the drillers at the coal mine.

Mr Whittall said the drilling has reached the 100 metre mark, with a total of 162 metres to be cleared.

He said there would be an opportunity to put laser imaging equipment and video cameras down the hole once it was completed.

10.13am: Tasman police district superintendent Gary Knowles was the first to speak at the press conference this morning.

He said the rescue team is still on stand by and considering which sections of the mine they will enter first.

Mr Knowles said there have been discussions with the NZ Defence Force about using a robot underground.

Mr Knowles said testing at the mine will continue on a 24 hour basis.

He then read the names of the 29 miners trapped at Pike River.

9.47am: Sending a robot into the West Coast mine where 29 men are trapped could make the situation more dangerous, says Pike River Coal chairman John Dow.

"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.

9.29am: The families of the trapped Pike River have emerged from a briefing held for them this morning at the offices of the Grey District Council.

The relatives appeared composed with no sign of tears or obvious emotion. They met in small groups outside the offices, talking to one another.

9.08am: One of the survivors of the Beaconsfield mine collapse in 2006 has told the Sydney Morning Herald his heart goes out to the miners and their families.

Brant Webb and his colleague Todd Russell were trapped for 15 days after an earthquake caused the mine collapse that killed their workmate Larry Knight.

"You'd have to say this is one bad scenario," Mr Webb told the paper.

"The mining community is like a brotherhood all over the world. You just feel for those families who don't know what is going to be the outcome. You feel for the rescuers who are waiting up top, so eager to get in and start the rescue, to find the blokes who are their mates."

Mr Webb said he feels for the two Australians and their families who are "so far away".

8.37am: CNN's Gary Tuchman said the rescuers spent four days drilling bore holes in attempt to release gas from the mine.

"It was a very sad story," Mr Tuchman told Newstalk ZB.

However he said the Chile rescue showed hope is not lost for the 29 down the Pike River mine.

"For 17 days they didn't know if anyone was alive. Great things can happen."

8.30am: CNN correspondent Gary Tuchman spoke to Newstalk ZB about the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia, where a similar incident claimed the lives of 29 miners earlier in the year.

Mr Tuchman said the bodies of 25 miners were found in the initial search, but it took four more days to find the remaining four.

He said it would not be ridiculous to abandon hope of a safe rescue at Pike River, but suggested people should prepare for the worst.

8.19am: A special assembly will not take place today at Greymouth High School, its principal told Newstalk ZB.

Jim Luders said students needed "familiarity."

"Until we actually have an outcome from the mine being entered and seeing how things are, we carry on as normal."

"We don't want to amp it up more than it is," he said.

"The stress on families in the community has been horrendous. We have to be as prepared as we can."

8.08am: The operation to drill 150m into the mine from above is making "good progress", Pike River's chairman John Dow said.

The hole will allow gas samples to be taken from a second point in the mine. Currently samples are only being taken from the ventilation shaft and have not yet indicated levels are safe enough for rescuers to enter.

Mr Dow told Newstalk ZB the drill has gone down about 92 metres.

8.00am: Frustrated by the inaction of rescue teams, families of the Pike River miners want to mount their own rescue effort.

The families are at the moment being briefed by the mine's operators and rescuers as to the status of the operation at the mine.

Laurie Drew, the father of Zen Drew who is down the mine, told Newstalk ZB he will ask the authorities why he cannot go in and find his son himself.

He said many of the families support his view.

7.51am: Prime Minister John Key told Newstalk ZB he is due to take the Australian and British High Commissioners to the West Coast in about an hour.

He praised the abilities of the New Zealand and Australian rescue personnel ready to assist at Pike River and said that there had been other offers of assistance from overseas, including from the state of West Virginia where a similar incident claimed the lives of 29 miners earlier in the year.

Mr Key said it was "very to difficult to judge" if the mine was safe prior to the blast but he had heard no evidence to suggest the contrary.

"I think in terms of safety and security, I think you can say the mine was safe."

Mr Key said New Zealand has had a long term involvement in the mining industry.

"At the moment there are commercial risks because the tunnel is beneath a national park. You wouldn't want to close down the entire industry because one mine had a problem."

Mr Key said there would need to be a serious inquiry into the incident, though "we have to acknowledge that mines are an inherently dangerous environment."

7.28am: The families of the Pike River miners will be briefed on the situation at 8am.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the West Coast was "in limbo".

"The worst part about it is as every day goes past, the desperation levels go higher," he said.

"We're hoping for some closure but that closure is at arm's length."
Mr Kokshoorn said it was "a fine day" in the area, which will assist with the drilling and sampling operations.

He understood the drilling to be halfway complete. The drill should reach its target sometime later this morning.

David Bell, a senior lecturer on engineering and mining geology at the University of Canterbury warned that there could have been "a serious loss of life" at the mine.

Mr Bell described the situation as a "catch 22" - the desire to get rescuers into the mine as soon as possible is countered by the possibility they could cause another explosion.

7.16am: Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has sent a message of support to the Pike River community.

"My thoughts are with all the men trapped in the Pike River mine, and with their families and communities," she said via Twitter.

"The wait for news is agonising."

If you are using Twitter, the "official" hashtag for finding tweets about the Pike River mine blast is #PikeRiver.

You can follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/nzherald and "like" us on Facebook at facebook.com/nzherald.co.nz.

7.10am: Jo Smith, the wife of Russell Smith, who was one of only two miners to make it out following the explosion on Friday, said she doesn't want her husband to go underground again.

She told Newstalk ZB she and her husband hope the miners have found a pocket of air and will be rescued soon.

7.01am: 63 hours have now passed since the blast at Pike River mine.

Families of the 29 miners continue to wait for news of their loved ones and rescuers have yet to enter the mine because it has not yet been declared safe to do so.

After almost three days, hopes of a happy outcome are dwindling.

"The situation is bleak," said David Bell, an engineering and mining geology expert at the University of Canterbury.

He told Newstalk ZB the main concern is methane, while continued burning would increase carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels in the mine.

6.41am: This infographic details the layout of the Pike River mine.

6.26am: Good morning, and welcome back.

Police are expected to discuss the release of a full list of the trapped miners.

Survivor Daniel Rockhouse spoke to the Herald yesterday about his escape from the Pike River mine.

"I got out of my machine and all of a sudden I heard what seemed to be a shotgun blast but much, much louder and more powerful. I got up and there was thick white smoke everywhere - worse than a fire. I knew straight away that it was carbon monoxide.

"I lay down and closed my eyes and waited for that bright light. But then I managed to roll over on to my stomach and tried to get up. I screamed at myself, 'Daniel, get up! Get the f*** up!"'


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