Image via WikipediaFamilies gathering outside the site of the underground mine explosion at the Pike River on the West Coast, NZ...
Families are gathering outside the site of an underground mine explosion at the Pike River on the West Coast this evening, where 27 miners remain unaccounted for.The reported fatality has not yet been confirmed here just after 9pm Friday evening NZ time,
At least two people have now emerged from the mine, following the explosion. They have been taken to Westport DHB with moderate injuries
The two miners indicated three of their colleagues were also on their way to the surface.
Some media were reporting one fatality but West Coast DHB could not confirm the death.
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall said he had not received any reports of fatalities.
He described the safety conditions in the mine as excellent and said the trapped miners had safety equipment.
"Every worker carried a safety rescue device at all times including a breathing apparatus with oxygen," Mr Whittall said.
"The men are between two and two and a half kilometres inside, but because the mine drills into the side of the mountain they are probably only 120 below the surface.
"The issue for the rescue team will be to ensure that the ventilation underground is adequate for them to go in and find the men."
He said it was only speculation that the men were trapped because they were trained to go to a place of safety and to wait.
Blast rips through mine
West Coast Mine Rescue workers were preparing to enter the mine, 50km northeast of Greymouth, around 8pm.
An afternoon shift of miners and some management were underground at the Pike River Coal Mine near Greymouth when an explosion occurred around 3.45pm.
Earlier, Mr Whittall said 27 workers remained missing - 15 employees and 12 contractors.
Emergency services are at the mine's processing plant in Atarau, halfway between Greymouth and Reefton.
Six ambulances were on the scene, and three rescue helicopters were being sent from Nelson, Greymouth and Christchurch.
St John ambulance has more than 20 staff at the scene at the moment and is sending additional staff from Christchurch.
Police said they could not give full details yet but 36 tags belonging to miners were still hanging on the board at the mine.
"Those miners have not yet been heard from," said police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn
Police say there is concern that ventilation inside the mine shaft may be compromised by the power outage.
Loader driver blown 1500m
There was a power outage at the mine this afternoon, and an electrician went in to investigate about 3.50pm. He discovered a loader driver who had been blown off his machine about 1500m into the mine shaft, she said.
He was one of the two men to emerge from the mine.
Two workers had emerged from the mine, but they had been working in a different area.
The two miners escaped by walking two kilometres in a valley inside the mine, climbing up inside the mountain. They eventually emerged through an escape portal.
Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee, who expects to be at the scene around 11pm, said the blast happened at 3.45pm and the last contact with any of the miners was lost at 4.15pm
He said mine officials had no idea what caused the blast, or the condition of the miners who were trapped.
The Mayor of Grey District, Tony Kokshoorn, who rushed to the site of the blast, said "it's not good".
"With a bit of luck, it might be okay but there are 25 to 30 unaccounted for."
Rapid response mines rescue teams have been mobilised from their headquarters at Rapahoe, seven miles north of Greymouth.
Escape tunnels in mine
Herald video journalist Simon Baker, who has been in the mine, says it does have an evacuation chute where miners can escape if the main entrance to the mine tunnel is blocked.
"They've built a small channel, which is just a ladder to the top of the mountain," said Mr Baker.
Mr Brownlee confirmed the existence of the exit tunnels but didn't know if they could be accessed by the miners.
He said he would be going to the mine tonight.
"Any assistance the Government can provide, the Government will be there."
Pike River Coal Mine
The mine is located 46 km to the northeast of Greymouth, halfway between Greymouth and Reefton.
The Brunner seam at Pike River holds the largest-known deposit of hard coking coal in New Zealand, with 58.5 million tonnes of coal in-ground. It runs six kilometres north-south and up to one-half kilometres east-west, averaging about seven metres in thickness
The company had recently almost halved its production forecasts for the 2011 year to between 320,000 and 360,000 tonnes
The mine is extremely isolated. It is a hill site mine that is made up of horizontal tunnels
Around 150 people are employed by the mine. New CEO Peter Whittall started on October 2.
Acknowledgements: NZ Herald staff