Families of Trapped New Zealand Miners Frustrated by Rescue Delays

The effort to rescue 29 miners trapped in New Zealand is now on hold because of fears there will be a second blast. Greer McDonald on the families' anguish and two brothers—one trapped, the other blown clear.

In the small, remote mining community on New Zealand’s West Coast, news of the explosion at a coal mine that trapped 29 people underground was received with dread.

Many people here in Greymouth work in the mines or have loved ones who do.

For the Rockhouse family, the accident at the Pike River mine brought both heartache and relief: one son is still trapped underground while another son was one of the two survivors after Friday’s explosion.

Daniel, a 24-year-old coal-load driver, received only moderate injuries in the blast, and was discovered unconscious by an electrician who went to investigate the cause of a power outage. His younger brother Ben is still trapped underground.

In a poignant Facebook comment, posted the day before the explosion, Ben wrote "I'm sick and tired of being so ... accident prone. Can't go a day without hurting myself or a month without almost” dying.

His father, Neville, is the safety and training manager at Pike River Coal.

A message on the Facebook page of Ben and Daniel’s mother, Sonya, says: "Sonya and our family are waiting patiently for good news. Sonya wants you all to pray for Ben's safe return. We love you Ben and Daniel!"

"I'm sick and tired of being so ... accident prone. Can't go a day without hurting myself or a month without almost” dying.

To further add to their grief, Ben and Daniel’s grandfather, ‘Rocky’ Rockhouse, died suddenly, just hours after the explosion, according to reports.

Here as elsewhere, people have drawn parallels between this accident and the explosion at a Chilean mine earlier this fall, which left 33 miners trapped underground for two months. In a rare happy ending to a mining disaster, all the Chilean miners were rescued. Just a week later, however, 37 miners in China died following an explosion at their mine.

Constantino Diaz-Duran: How New Zealand Mine Disaster Compares to Chile’sTami Abdollah: The Perilous Mining Rescue And officials warn that, unlike the accident in Chile at a gold and copper mine, the trapped miners in New Zealand may face dangerous levels of methane and carbon dioxide. Peter Whittall, chief executive of mine operator Pike River Coal Ltd, said the air quality in the mine was being tested but that there were no conclusive results yet.

There has been no contact with any of the miners trapped inside the mine, and safety concerns have delayed any rescue attempts.

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Superintendent Gary Knowles, the Tasman police District Commander, said that rescuers were ready to go but safety was "paramount" to the rescue operation.

"We're not going to put 16 men underground and risk their lives….it’s a case of safety first," he said, but added a note of hope. "We are going to go down there, and find these guys, and bring them out."

Laurie Drew, whose 21-year-old son Zen is among those missing, said families of the miners were becoming increasingly frustrated at the delays.

"If I had my way, I'd be down there and I'd go into the mine myself - I'm not scared or nothing - and I'd go and look myself, gas or not," he said, according to a report.

“It's just the same old runaround-runaround - excuses for why things can't be done, instead of trying to find solutions."

Families, Drew said, wanted to be onsite–like relatives were in Chile–but had not been allowed to come near the site of the disaster.

"We want to be onsite so when they walk out, we'll be there," he said. "I just want my boy home.”

Authorities have not yet released a full list of the missing miners. But Mayor Tony Kokshoorn named two of the missing - local councilor Milton Osborne and rugby league representative Blair Sims - and said a father-of-five and a local hotelier's son were also trapped.

Kokshoorn, who knows all of the miners personally, said the community was buoyed by the messages of support that have been coming in from all over the world.

''It is one of those things we know it can happen,” said Kokshoorn, adding that there hasn’t been a serious mining accident for decades. “We are hanging on to hope till someone tells us otherwise.”

Greer McDonald works for New Zealand’s largest news website stuff.co.nz - Fairfax New Zealand.