Expert flown in for operations

SHATTERED: A worker pays tribute to the fallen at Pike River Mine. AAP image
SHATTERED: A worker pays tribute to the fallen at Pike River Mine. AAP image

HOPE LOST: The families of the miners trapped are transported from the site on a bus. AAP image

AN Australian expert was arriving in Greymouth last night to provide advice on the jet engine GAG operation at the ill-fated Pike River Coal mine, where chief executive Peter Whittall said it’s “highly likely” part of a coal seam has caught fire.

The fire in the mine was definitely coal, he told a media briefing late yesterday.

“It’s quite highly likely it’s a coal seam but that’s not necessarily throughout the whole mine,” he said.

The mine was rocked by an explosion on November 19, trapping 29 men. Any hopes they had survived were dashed by a second large explosion last Wednesday and since then there have been three more blasts.

“The men would be potentially... 500 metres away from the fire...,” Mr Whittall said.

“There’s hardly any ventilation so I would imagine the air temperature down there would continue to rise with the fire and it would be like a fire in one part of your house (which would) eventually heat the whole house,” he said.

If the coal seam was on fire, it would make the process of pumping inert gases into the mine much more difficult and the GAG jet machine that does this may have to be used several times.

Superintendent Gary Knowles, the police commander of the recovery team, said bringing the expert to New Zealand was “crucial” in terms of all the emergency services getting around the table, “getting a better understanding of what we are going to face underground”.

“We’ve been planning for some time the GAG operation and bringing in the expert,” Mr Knowles said. “He can tell us what the options will be. What the risks are, and I think the primary focus has never changed that we need to stabilise that environment. We need to ensure that it is safe and poses no risks to anyone else.”

Mr Knowles stressed the GAG operation was only one phase of the recovery operation.


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