The events that have unfolded in NZ over recent weeks have been a tragedy that no-one would ever want to re-live... unfortunately these events have occurred in the past, and it is likely they will occur again in the future.
Coal dust explosions are extremely violent events that statistically, for the families, offer no closure for those who do not escape by their own means.
The most tragic of these events in Australia have occurred in our own region here in the Illawarra... the Bulli mine explosion occurred in the escarpment above the green bridge passing over the Princes Highway at Bulli. 81 men and boys in teen's died in the first deadly blast in the region. An unconscious boy was blown out of the tunnel mouth with blast debris by the force of the explosion... miraculously he lived - he was the only survivor. The eighty one bodies were recovered and are buried at Bulli and Fairy Meadow.
At Mt. Kembla Colliery 96 men and boys died in the now famous 'Kembla Mine Disaster'. The sound of the explosion was reported to be herd in Wollongong and Thirroul – over 15 kilometres away. This remains Australia’s largest single loss of life in peace time, and the largest loss of life in an Australian industrial accident.
At Appin another underground explosion resulted in the death of 14 employees in 1979.
As history repeats itself today and the mining communities around the world mourn those lost at Pike River, there is an extract from the Sydney Morning Herald dated 9th August 1994 below to remind us of the heartache felt by the townsfolk of Moura - the eleven miners who perished in Moura were never recovered.
Of note, when these events have occurred the 'rescue' statistics are sobering... to my knowledge following a coal dust explosion, in NSW no-one has ever been rescued. In Queensland, Mine Rescue Teams have successfully rescued two miners - since the implementation of the mines rescue Acts in Queensland in 1925 and NSW in 1926 we have never lost any mine rescue team members attempting rescue in NSW. Since the same Act was enacted in Queensland 24 rescuers have lost their lives re-entering mines to save lives or to extinguish fires.
There are countless other explosions that have resulted in many lives lost in other Australian mining communities and literally hundreds of thousands of miners that have perished in these events internationally.
Today, at 2PM New Zealand time (Midday NSW summertime), 29 tables will be set with miners cap lamps and 2 minutes silence will be held for the loved ones lost at Pike River - today is their day. During the 2 minutes silence we should also remember those who have suffered the same fate in the past and the loved ones who survive them and hope that events of this nature never occur again.
Those honoured today…
New Zealanders: Joseph Dunbar - 17, Benjamin Rockhouse - 21, Zen Drew - 21, Michael Hanmer Monk - 23, Samuel Mackie - 26, Brendan Palmer - 27, Blair Sims- 28, Riki Keane - 28, Stuart Mudge - 31, Christopher Duggan - 31, Andrew Hurren - 32, Kane Nieper - 33, David Hoggart - 33, Glen Cruse - 35, Daniel Herk - 36, Terry Kitchin - 41, Francis Marden - 41, Richard Holling - 41, Conrad Adams - 43, John Hale - 45, Milton Osborne - 54, Peter O'Neill - 55, Allan Dixon - 59, Keith Valli – 62
Australians: Joshua Ufer - 25, William Joynson - 49
UK - England: Peter Rodger - 40
UK - Scotland: Malcolm Campbell - 25
South Africa: Jacobus Jonker - 47
The entire team at Risk Response + Rescue extend their sincere condolences to the families and friends of those affected by this tragedy.
Managing Director RR+R
Entombed: Moura Mourns Its Dead
Sydney Morning Herald
Tuesday August 9, 1994
By JOHN HUXLEY
Some wore stubbies and thongs, others flannelette shirts and Wranglers. Some sported broad-brimmed Akubras, others, peaked baseball caps carrying the Moura Mine logo. Some sobbed, most simply stood granite-grim in the bitter southerly wind.
Coalminers and cattle workers, townsfolk and countryfolk, men and women, young and old, they came, united by shock and a shared sense of personal tragedy to Moura's Rotary Park yesterday to learn the latest news of attempts to rescue 11 men trapped underground in the central Queensland mine since Sunday.
This was no time, no place for a show of emotion. Still less for histrionics. A handshake here. A nod there. Just a few words of introduction from the district vice-president of the United Mine Workers Union, Jim Lambley, which urged the community to "stick together more than ever" and as far as possible to ignore the madding media, whom he described as a necessary evil in the present crisis.
Then, with the help of sketches drawn on a whiteboard unloaded from the back of a ute, Mr Lambley and his colleagues, Pat Heumiller and Bill Allison, gave a remarkably dispassionate account of the state of the rescue attempt. They explained it remained stalled as rescue crews stood by, still waiting for the dangerous concentration of gases in the gallery where the men were trapped to clear."I know there are men here who are prepared to risk their lives to save the lives of those trapped, but we have to be realistic," said Mr Heumiller.
The union officials, shouting to be heard above the whistling wind that sent red dust swirling in all directions, did not seek to disguise the gravity of the crisis. The crowd wanted and was given hard technical details of the limited options left open to the rescuers. Afterwards there were few questions. Almost as quickly as they had assembled the crowd dispersed, returning to the proper privacy of their homes, leaving the streets of Moura deserted, as they have been since Sunday night's accident.
TV cameramen, warned earlier by police to keep away because of the"volatility of the people", were pushed angrily away.
Within an hour there was a flurry of activity on the streets as people rushed fearfully from their homes, shops and offices to find out the cause of a loud explosion. Way to the south-east of the town, black smoke quickly smudged the brilliant blue sky. There had been another blast in the mine.
It was sickening. As Paul Marks, a Moura miner for 19 of his 37 years, said: "Absolutely nothing can prepare you for something like this." Within hours his worst fears were confirmed, when after telling the relatives of the 11 men, union and BHP officials announced that the rescue attempt was to be abandoned. The mine was to be sealed, the trapped miners entombed.
The explosion came as rescue teams were desperately drilling bore holes to lower extra gas detection equipment into the mine and preparing to despatch a Numbat remote-control vehicle down the mine to better assess the chances of safely sending in rescue teams.
The general manager of the BHP Australia Coal group, Mr Bob Flew, said the second blast "led the company and mining unions to the inescapable conclusion there was no longer any hope of survival for the 11 men".
Mr Marks, president of the Moura branch of the union, was on holiday with his family in Yeppoon when he was woken in his hotel at 1 am on Monday with news of the first explosion. He returned to Moura immediately to help with rescue operations and community liaison.
"We're all brothers here," he explained. "We feel for each other."
He added: "Even before the final decision, the mood in the community was one of deep shock. Obviously everyone is absolutely devastated."
The Prime Minister, Mr Keating, extended his deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the 11 men. "I am sure that the thoughts of Australians everywhere will be with those affected by this tragedy," he said.
The Federal Opposition Leader, Mr Downer, also extended his sympathies.
There has been speculation that the ill-fated mine will close permanently with a loss of 150 jobs, dealing the town a further blow.
Mr Marks says some men will now almost certainly decide to quit the coal industry or at least seek a transfer to the open-cut operations. And privately BHP officials are questioning whether it will be possible ever to resume underground operations, especially as the reserves are becoming increasingly uneconomic.
But reports of Moura's and the mine's demise are premature. Underground operations produce only a quarter of the mine's annual output of 4.1 million tonnes.
Meanwhile local support groups have begun mobilising to help the many bereaved families and friends. As one local businesswoman said, "this is the bush, everyone is affected in some way".
The dead men are: John Robert Dullahide of Moura, 44; Darrell William Hogarth, Moura, 46; David Brian King, Banana, 24; Geoffrey Mazzer, Biloela, 45; Mark Reginald Nelson, Moura, 36; Robert Allan Newton, Banana, 39; Robert Parker, Newcastle, 39; Christopher Robert Ritchie, Moura, 27; Michael Edward Ryan, Moura, 31; Michael Edward Shaw, Moura, 27; Terry Gordon Vivian, Moura, 49.