Rescuers pull 29 from mine in China

LOSING HOPE::The New Zealand military warned that it may be too late to save 29 workers trapped for three days, but officials said they would not stop the search

AP, BEIJING AND GREYMOUTH, NEW ZEALAND

Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - Page 5

Emergency crews drained a flooded Chinese coal mine and rescued all 29 trapped workers yesterday, ending a daylong rescue drama.

State television showed the miners — naked, barefoot and wrapped in white quilts and with their eyes shielded from the light after 24 hours in darkness — being led by medics out of the mine entrance.

Crowds of mine workers, reporters and others cheered as the survivors were taken to waiting ambulances.

Thirty-five miners were initially trapped on Sunday morning when waters from a nearby abandoned mine flooded a shaft in the small, privately owned Batian mine in Sichuan Province, the Xinhua news agency reported. While 13 managed to escape, another seven workers who went into the mine to rescue their colleagues also became trapped, the report said.

A mine inspector who took part in the rescue said that the trapped workers were able to find dry space in the mine about 40m below the surface to wait out the rescue, and that fast pumping by emergency teams cleared the way for the rescuers.

“They were trapped down underground just above the leaked water,” said the inspector, Bao Xiqiang, with southern Sichuan’s Work Safety Bureau. “When the water went down to a safe level, the rescuers and miners were able to wade their way out of the shaft.”

Workers pumped water from the mine for more than 10 hours, Bao said. Rescuers then walked down a slope about 160m and along a flat tunnel for another 550m to reach those trapped, he said.

The rescue was rare good news for a coal mining industry that is still the world’s deadliest despite impressive safety improvements in recent years.

It contrasted with the difficult rescue efforts under way in New Zealand, where toxic fumes have kept rescuers from entering a coal mine to reach 29 workers three days after an explosion.

The New Zealand Army yesterday prepared to send a bomb--disposal robot into a New Zealand coal mine where toxic fumes have kept rescuers from going after 29 workers missing for three days, though officials acknowledged for the first time it may be too late to save them.

Officials say they will not give up hope of pulling the men out alive after a massive explosion ripped through the Pike River Mine on the country’s South Island on Friday. A buildup of methane gas is the suspected cause, though -officials say that may not be confirmed for days at least.

Methane and other toxic gases — some of them believed to be coming from a smoldering fire deep underground — have been detected in the network of tunnels that threads through a mountain and officials fear another explosion if rescuers enter.

“We still remain optimistic, we’re still keeping an open mind,” police superintendent Gary Knowles told reporters. “But we are planning for all outcomes, and as part of this process we’re planning for the possible loss of life as a result of what’s occurred underground.”

Authorities expected to finish drilling a 160m long, 15cm wide shaft into the mine tunnel later yesterday to get a better idea of the air quality in areas where miners were believed trapped by the blast.