Hope for New Zealand miners bleak as footage shows blast
Rescuers have not yet entered the mine, fearing that it is a powder keg of explosive gases that could ignite at any time.
Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 05:16 AM
DISASTER: This video grab shows rescuers working at the explosion site at the Pike River Coal mine on New Zealand South Island's West Coast. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
GREYMOUTH, New Zealand - Hopes of finding 29 men trapped in a New Zealand mine alive were rapidly fading Tuesday, with footage of the blast at the mine four days ago showing debris flung out of the shaft like a bullet from a gun.
Rescuers have not yet entered the mine, dug into the side of a mountain range, since the explosion Friday, fearing that it is a powder keg of explosive gases that could ignite at any time.
"The likelihood (of rescue) is diminishing and we have to be realistic," police district commander Gary Knowles said.
The mine company released surveillance camera footage from the entrance to the coal mine, which showed the strength and duration of the blast, which lasted nearly a minute.
"The length of time and the violence that will show in the video...shows it was quite a significant event indeed," Pike River Coal Chief Executive Peter Whittall said, likening the 2.3 km mine-shaft to the barrel of a gun.
Progress on drilling a 6-inch shaft of 162 meters to get access to the mine had slowed after hitting hard rock, with more than 10 meters still to go to reach the main shaft.
Rescuers intend to monitor the air quality from the hole and lower cameras and sound devices to check for signs of life.
Whittall said a camera was lowered down another narrow hole which provided air to one of the designated safe areas off the main mine shaft. Some damage from the blast was evident and no signs of life were seen.
A second robot arrived at the mine to replace one which had broken down earlier on Tuesday, a setback which provoked anger and frustration from family members, who have seen hope slowly fade as time drag on.
"It's getting worse. Frustration, anxiety, anger, it's all surfacing...it's getting to crisis point with people's feelings," Laurie Drew, whose son Zen, 21, is one of the trapped, told Reuters.
The second robot was being readied to enter the mine shaft, after the first one broke down after getting wet about 550 meters down the 1.4 mile shaft.
Rescue teams also used seismic devices, which could detect if any survivors were trying to signal to the surface by tapping on the rock or pipes, but nothing had been heard.
The agonizing wait to discover the fate of the men has consumed the country. Prime Minister John Key told parliament "our thoughts right now are with the miners families and the sense of hopelessness they must be feeling."
There have been no signs of life since the explosion at the mine on the rugged west coast of New Zealand's South Island.
Aged 17 to 62, the trapped men each carried an emergency breathing kit, which would have given up to an hour's fresh air, and only the food and water they would have taken in with them for their shift.
Officials have said it is possible the men, who were working in different areas of the mine but within several hundred meters of each other, could be huddled in pockets of clean air awaiting rescue. But that has looked less likely as every day passes without any rescuers being able to enter the mine.
Two men escaped from the mine after the blast with moderate injuries but were unable to help rescuers pinpoint where the other men, who include two Britons, two Australians and a South African, were likely to be.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Bathgate in Wellington. Editing by Ed Davies)
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