Has it always been this crucial in the mining world, or is this just a catastrophically fawked up year for miners? Almost one month to the date following the death of 37 miners in China – which ironically came just days after the the rescue of the Chilean miners – 29 men are trapped underground in New Zealand under very similar conditions.
And once again, these guys aren’t expected to see a happy ending.
Rescuers in New Zealand were testing a high-tech robot Monday that they hope will provide key information in their search for 29 miners trapped underground.
A toxic mix of gases inside the coal mine still made it too risky for humans to enter Monday night, officials said. But the robot could enter “in the reasonably near future,” Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall told reporters.
No one has heard from the men — ages 17 to 62 — since an explosion inside the mine around 4 p.m. Friday. Officials hope they are alive, though they do not know if the men found a haven or whether parts or all of the mine collapsed.
“We still remain optimistic. We’re still keeping an open mind, but we are planning for all outcomes. … We’re planning for the possible loss of life as a result of what’s occurred underground,” said Gary Knowles, superintendent of the Tasman Police District.
Whittall said work to drill a small bore hole Monday had been “very successful.” He said it was 135 meters (443 feet) deep Monday evening — about 15 meters (49 feet) away from its target.
Once the six-inch-wide hole breaks through, rescue workers will be able to collect gas samples and other data from a new area of the mine, providing information that could aid in the rescue.
Workers also expect to put laser imaging gear down the hole to create a real-time image of what it looks like inside the mine, which is located on New Zealand’s west coast between Greymouth and Reefton.
Sending in the military-operated robot will be a key part of the search process, Knowles said.
“Sending a robot in to look around is the first step of that, to assess the damage, to see how far we can go,” he said.
Police on Monday released for the first time the names, ages and nationalities of the 29 men. Most of the missing are from New Zealand, but there are also miners from Australia, Scotland and South Africa in the group.
Two of their colleagues escaped the mine soon after the explosion by walking out through a tunnel, the mouth of which is about 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) from where the 29 missing men might be.
“We owe it to the men that are underground, that in undertaking the rescue we do it in a way that doesn’t endanger their lives any further,” Prime Minister John Key told reporters earlier Monday. “We’re going to get through this and do everything we possibly can to get the men out alive.”
Stranger things have happened… but 29 people, trapped in an area with limited air and toxic gases for four days?