Last updated 21:50 19/11/2010
LATEST: Rescue helicopters at a West Coast mine where up to 27 men are feared trapped after an explosion have returned to base, as a warning was issued rescue efforts could take days.
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Two men have walked out of the West Coast mine, 50 km northeast of Greymouth, where the others are trapped at least 1500 metres underground.
However, shortly after 9pm the three rescue helicopters on site returned empty to their bases in Christchurch, Greymouth and Nelson respectively.
Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn said it could take days before it was safe enough for the specialist rescue teams to re-enter the mine.
"We are holding on to hope. Look at Chile, all those miners were trapped and they all came out alive.''
He named one of the missing miners as Greymouth District councillor Milton Osborne.
Kokshoorn said Osborne was a contractor at the Pike River mine.
"It's an emotional time, one of my councillors is down there,'' Kokshoorn said.
The mayor said he had been speaking to Osborne's wife, who was with other family members waiting for news at an area up the road closer to the mine entrance.
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittal earlier said he had not received any reports of fatalities.
He said 15 of the miners were Pike River coalmine staff and 12 local contractors.
Pike River spokesman Dick Knapp told a press conference just after 9pm that families were now being asked to gather at the Moonlight Hall at nearby Blackball to wait for news. They would also receive support and information there.
Knapp confirmed it was a gas explosion, but it was unknown what had caused it.
Whittal said two miners had emerged with moderate injuries. They were being treated at Grey Hospital, in Greymouth. Police said the men were "walking and talking".
It is understood they emerged from a secondary service shaft. The mine entrance is about 2.2km long and then branches out into sub areas.
Police said one of the first men out was the loader driver discovered by an electrician who entered the mine to investigate a power outage at 3.50pm.
He and the other miner indicated three of their colleagues were also on their way to the surface.
Police said rescuers were concerned about air quality at the site. Testing was being carried out to determine if the mine could be entered.
Mine management originally thought 36 men were missing, a number based on the number of tags on staff board at lamps which had not been checked in.
The explosion at the mine happened at 3.30pm, police said. A TVNZ cameraman reported seeing scorched earth above the mine site.
Pike River spokesman Dick Knapp later said families were being asked to gather at the Moonlight Hall near Blackball to wait for news. They would also receive support and information there.
West Coast area commander Inspector John Canning said the men could be 1500 metres underground.
Police were notified an hour after the men failed to report, at 4.30pm, as was the practice in such emergencies.
Canning said mine rescue had been called in, with team members coming in from around the West Coast.
A St John's Ambulance spokesman said there were six ambulances, with 20 staff, at the scene.
They were also preparing to transport additional staff from Christchurch to help with what may be a long operation.
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little said it was an "incredibly anxious'' time for the miners' families.
"We've got a [union] organiser over there who is with families. The only thing we can do is provide support, which is what we are doing at this point,'' he said.
Robin Kingston, archdeacon of the Greymouth and Kumara Anglican Church, said many of the church's parishioners were involved directly or indirectly with the Pike River Mine
"There is a significant amount of nervousness around at the moment. People have been asking for prayers for those they know who are not accounted for as yet."
Kingston said the community was worried, but not panicking.
"We are a community that has gone through many, many crises. Some worked out okay, and some were absolutely disastrous. We tend not to jump to conclusions and wait to see," he said.
"If it is disastrous, well, we will handle it well. We tend not to panic until we know for sure."
Prime Minister John Key said: "Our heart and thoughts go out to the miners and their families… we will do anything humanly possible to aid the miners and to rescue them."
Key said Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been in contact to assure him Australian resources would be made available to New Zealand as soon as possible.
Speaking on his way to the disaster from Christchurch, Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee expected to be at the scene by around 11.30pm. He understood a plan was being formulated at the moment for how to enter the mine.
His main concern was for the families who were worried about their loved ones.
A Facebook support group was created as the story developed during Friday evening.
The site, 'Supporting the Pike River miners', attracted more than 100 members within an hour and was quickly gathering more.
Users are using the site to send comments to the miners and their families.
"Thinking of you all and hoping you get out safe," wrote Joanna Burston. While Jon Rodden referred to the miners as "Brothers in arms".
The Pike River Mine is on the opposite side of the Paparoa Ranges from the now closed Strongman State Mine where 19 miners died in an explosion in 1967. A total of 140 people are employed around the mine site.
The mine has been beset by delay, most particularly the collapse of an air ventilation shaft when it was close to opening for production.
The mine is the source of high grade coal used in steel production, most particularly for the Indian market.
Pike River Coal was listed on the New Zealand and Australian Stock Exchanges in July 2007 and has been in the NZX Top 50 listed companies since July 2008.
It has three major shareholders: cornerstone shareholder New Zealand Oil & Gas Limited (30 percent), and Indian customers Gujarat NRE Limited (7 percent) and Saurashtra World Holdings Private Limited (6 percent).
It now has almost 350 million shares on issue, currently held by more than 8,000 shareholders, and a market capitalisation of NZ$400 million in mid-2009.
The news broke just before the New Zealand stock exchange closed, and the shares ended the day down 4.35 percent, or 4c, at 88c.
Pike River Coal's Australian-listed shares dropped sharply when the news broke, losing as much as 15 per cent of their value. At 5.37pm NZT the Australian shares were down A9c, or 12.7 per cent, at A62 cents.
Újabb bányabaleset: sokan eltűntek
Nagy erejű robbanás történt pénteken egy új-zélandi bányában, a helyi hatóságok szerint a detonáció után legalább harminc lent rekedt bányásszal megszakadt a kapcsolat.
MTI| 2010. november 19.
A baleset a Déli-sziget középső partvidéki részén, Greymouth városának közelében lévő bányában történt, ahol nemrég kezdődött meg a szénkitermelés.
"Sajnos nincsenek jó híreink. Nem tudjuk, milyen mélységben történt a robbanás, de feltehetőleg nagy erejű volt. Egy kis szerencsével talán minden rendben lesz, ugyanakkor 25-30 bányászról egyelőre nincs információnk" - mondta Tony Kokshoorn polgármester az új-zélandi állami rádiónak.
Peter Wittall, a bányát üzemeltető Pike River Coal vállalat vezetője elmondta, hogy két vájárnak ugyan sikerült épségben kijutni a felszínre, de nem lehet tudni pontosan, hányan rekedtek a föld mélyén. "Most azon vagyunk, hogy megállapítsuk a baleset okát és súlyosságát" - tette hozzá Wittall.
A 2008 óta működő cég Új-Zéland egyetlen tőzsdén jegyzett szénbányászati vállalata, és 180 embert foglalkoztat. Egy részük 2,3 kilométeres mélységben dolgozik.
John Canning területi rendőrparancsnok közlése szerint legalább 30-an lehetnek a felszín alatt körülbelül 1500 méteres mélységben. A helyszínre két mentőhelikoptert és tíz mentőautót vezényeltek ki.
Gerry Brownlee új-zélandi energiaügyi miniszter arról tájékoztatott, hogy a bányához több vészkijárat is tartozik, de az már kérdéses, hogy a lent rekedtek meg tudják-e azokat közelíteni.
Legutóbb 1967-ben történt súlyos bányabaleset a csendes-óceáni szigetországban. Akkor 19-en vesztették életüket az egyik szénbányában egy erős robbanásban.
By Laura Mills
The Pike River Mine rescue attempt is still on hold after staff found signs of "combustion" 2km underground.
At a press conference at 8am today, chief executive Peter Whittall said samples taken yesterday afternoon showed "some combustion".
It was hard to say if this meant there was a fire, or merely coal smouldering. A smoky discharge was still being emitted from the mine.
A mobile drill rig has been moved on top of the mountain over the main tunnel in a bid to collect new air samples. It will drill a 15cm hole for about 150m straight down to the coal face area where the men are thought to be.
Safety plans are being developed to minimise the risk of a spark when it punches into the main tunnel.
The one landline phone that works underground has not been answered, and there still has been no contact with the 29 men.
Police hope to list their names later today, but said it had taken time to contact relatives around the world, and next of kin needed time to grieve.
A limited number of family members were bused to the mine site today to see first-hand what is happening.
However, with the media pack from around the world now up at more than 70, there are complaints from relatives of aggressive behaviour.
There are also growing calls for a robot to be put underground to bring some sort of closure to families. However, all electrical equipment -- from watches to cameras -- that go underground need to be certified so they do not spark and cause another explosion.
Mr Whittall said it could take 16 to 24 hours to drill the new hole, if all went well. If the men were alive, and close by, they should be able to hear them down below.
Gas samples are "downward trending" but it is still not safe for Mines Rescue to enter. The last samples were taken at 8 o'clock last night.
Tasman police Superintendent Gary Knowles said they were still focusing on the rescue operation, with offers of help from Chile.
An international reference group has been set up to advise emergency personnel.
However, whether they were alive was the "$6 million question".
"The families are pretty distraught, this is their fathers and brothers."
The families are being briefed hourly and rescue services are rotating shifts so they can go in at an hour's notice. All equipment is on site.
Mr Whittall confirmed this morning that mine staff had been paid annual performance bonuses in June, and would not have been cutting corners to reach targets.
Safety at the mine was good, and the Pike River staff included the former Queensland deputy chief inspector of mines.
"I have confidence in the people we've got."
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