25 Nov 2010

Pike River mine - timeline of a tragedy

3:12 pm on 25 November 2010

FRIDAY 19 November

A methane gas explosion cut power and blew out ventilation fans at Pike River Coal's mine at Atarau near Greymouth at about 3.45pm.

Twenty-nine miners and contractors were believed to be trapped about 2km along the horizontal mine tunnel, which is burrowed in rugged mountains and bush and about 150 metres below the surface.

Two men walked out of the mine unaided and were treated in hospital and discharged.

An underground fire and the threat of toxic fumes meant it was considered too dangerous for rescuers to enter the mine.

SATURDAY 20 November

Safety concerns continued to delay the launch of a rescue mission.

Sixteen of the trapped workers were identified as employees of Pike River Coal, while 13 were local contractors. Police confirmed the workers' nationalities as 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two British citizens and one South African.

Prime Minister John Key travelled to Greymouth to offer support to the families of the mine workers. He said international offers of assistance and support included a message from Prince William and the Chilean and Australian governments had offered to help.

More than 150 people - five times the normal congregation - attended the town's Anglican Church for Saturday night communion.

Telecom moved to temporarily boost cellphone coverage in and around Greymouth, to meet the increase in demand for telecommunications services from an influx of people into the area.

SUNDAY 21 November

Family members of some of the workers were taken to the mine to help them understand the situation rescuers were facing. Access had been restricted since the explosion.

Air samples, taken every half hour, showed methane and other poisonous gas levels were decreasing in the mine shaft but were still too high for rescue teams to safely enter.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement of support through the US embassy in Wellington, which she said was monitoring the situation at the mine closely and standing ready to provide technical assistance.

MONDAY 22 November

A Defence Force robot was being prepared to go into the mine, with extra cable coming from an Australian mining company to extend the robot's reach. It was also being modified so it did not spark and cause another explosion.

Several kilometres of tube bundles to test air quality were flown in from Australia to allow gas levels in the mine to be monitored in real time through a ventilation shaft.

Family members were given another opportunity to head up to the mine site and John Key returned to Greymouth to meet rescue workers and speak to the mine workers' families.

Police Superintendent Gary Knowles, the police officer heading the rescue effort, said for the first time on Monday evening that rescuers were preparing for the possible loss of life.

TUESDAY 23 November

Police officially released the workers' names. The youngest of the miners was a 17-year-old New Zealander and the oldest was 62.

MPs delivered a message of support to the miners' families. All the parties in Parliament spoke in favour of a notice of motion expressing concern for the miners and those battling to save them, as well as their families and friends.

A Defence Force robot expected to provide images from inside the mine ran into water half a kilometre into the tunnel and broke down.

A second robot was flown by helicopter to the scene and found a miner's helmet with its light still burning. The mine company said the robots picked up bits of debris but nothing of any significance apart from the helmet.

Superintendent Knowles told a media conference the likelihood of a successful rescue was diminishing. CCTV footage was shown of the mine entrance when the explosion occurred on Friday afternoon.

Mine officials said the footage, taken from a camera outside the mine entrance and showing a cloud of dust blasting from the mine for about 50 seconds, demonstrated the force of the explosion, which was likely to have occurred about two kilometres into the mine.

WEDNESDAY 24 November

A third, more sophisticated robot arrived from Western Australia on Wednesday morning, with a fourth robot en route from the United States and due to arrive on Thursday morning.

At 2.37pm, a second explosion rocked the mine.

Police said the explosion was so powerful there was now no chance of the miners being alive, and they were moving into recovery mode. They said they will never know whether any of the miners were alive before the second massive explosion.