An rescue effort is underway following an explosion within a New Zealand coal mine. The blast occurred early Saturday morning and left 29 miners, ages 17 to 62, trapped. The miners were on a safety tour of the Pike River Mine, located 2 to 2 1/2 kilometres inside and 120 km underground. A total of five miners were able to walk to safety following the explosion by following access tunnels. Two men were treated at nearby hospitals for moderate injuries. Officials are hopeful to find the trapped miners.
Police, fire services, helicopters, and ambulances are waiting for permission from mine officials to begin the rescue efforts. A gas build up within the mine is stalling their efforts though Tasman Police District Commander Gary Knowles is anxious to "bring these guys home" per an interview with local media. Tony Kokshoorn, Mayor of a local town Greymouth, predicts it may be days before rescue teams can even enter the mine. Peter Whittall, chief executive of the mine, offered reassurance that each miner was armed air tanks, with thirty minutes of oxygen, allowing them to reach oxygen pockets within.
The Pike River Mine is located within a ruggedly mountainous and remote are near the town of Atarau on New Zealand's South Island. The location of the mine only adds to difficulties faced by rescue teams. The coal seam lies 200 yards underground and is only accessible by a 1.4 mile long horizontal tunnel.
The mine began shipping hard coking coal earlier this year. The coal is used in the steel industry.
Development of the mine was delayed significantly because of technical problems, rock falls, and gaseous buildup which caused the explosion, compromised the ventaliation and electrical systems within the mine, and trapped many of its workers.