All 28 Waihi miners rescued

MARYANNE TWENTYMAN, CLIO FRANCIS, MICHELLE COOKE AND BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 15:37 17/07/2012
Fairfax NZ

All of the 28 miners trapped underground after a fire at a Waihi gold mine have emerged safely.

Waihi Trio Gold Mine
TRIO MINE: Located under Union Hill, to the east of the town.
UNDERGROUND MINE: Newmont mine at Waihi.
MIKE SCOTT/ FAIRFAX NZ Zoom
UNDERGROUND MINE: Newmont mine at Waihi.
Rescue training exercise 5
Newmont Zoom
Mine rescue training

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The 28 miners who were trapped for hours in a Waihi gold mine are all well and in good spirits.

The miners were trapped in three refuge areas underground after a truck engine fire was reported at 5am today. Thirteen emerged mid morning, with the rest being rescued by Mines Rescue staff around midday.

Newmont's Underground manager Charlie Gawth says he has spoken to the miners who are all "very well actually."

He said they were all happy with how everything had gone, and were now at home.

They would be offered further support should they need it.

Several smiling, relaxed miners were driven out of the mine but declined to comment this morning.

A miner's family member said they had been "impressed" with the way the rescue operation had unfolded.

The person, who did not want to be named, said the miners were "incredibly calm and relaxed" as they waited in the underground refuge chambers.

Mines Rescue members reacted swiftly to the incident and the entire operation had "gone like clockwork".

"There is no panic, it's just one of those things and everyone is trained to deal with it."

SAFETY CONCERNS LINGER

Gawth said the underground mine was now closed for safety reasons. The tyres of the truck might explode, if they hadn't already, he said.

"There is still some light coming from that area, but we are not going close to it."

Newmont would work with the Department of Labour to determine when the underground section might reopen. 

Glen Grindlay, Newmont's operations general manager, said only one miner needed treatment for smoke inhalation.

He was happy with their emergency evacuation procedures and said staff safely got to the underground emergency chambers which were fully equipped. From there they phoned others above the surface to confirm they were OK.

The Trio mine was a hardrock gold mine and there was never a risk of an explosion, Grindlay said.

Grindlay was unsure exactly how word got around the mine of the fire, but he said all were equipped with radios. There is an alarm system but its unclear if that was activated.

He understood the miners were in relatively good spirits during the experience.

"I believe some thought it was a drill," he said.

Smoke from the truck would have got around the mine fairly quickly due to the location of the fire, which was fairly close to the portal.

Grindlay said a miner was driving the truck when he noticed smoke coming out from under the bonnet.

He said all other similar trucks would be subjected to an inspection. The mine would remain closed today and possibly tomorrow but should be open by Thursday, he said.

Newmont began notifying family about 6am and then began alerting the public from 7am, Grindlay, said.

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As for notification to the Fire Service, he said they, along with police, were notified as a matter of courtesy.
There was never any risk of an explosion. The truck was left to burn out.

Grindlay said he was happy with the approximate seven hours it took to rescue the miners describing it as "appropriate".

There was also never any risk to any nearby residents but admitted there would have been concerns due to the smoke coming out of the mine's shaft.

The safety chambers were well-equipped and self-sustainable for 20 people for up to 36 hours. Miners also carried personal kits.

"So there was plenty of time to get things in hand ... it was great, we got everyone out and followed processes. We tried to keep the community information and the members of the families."

PROBES LAUNCHED

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment was investigating, while Newmont was also carrying out its own review.

Three Newmont Waihi Gold Mines Rescue Teams had helped with the evacuation. NZ Mines Rescue and Solid Energy had also offered assistance.

Mine safety expert Dave Feickert said the first hurdle for the rescuers would have been extinguishing the fire and removing the risk of any toxic fumes from that.

Meanwhile, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union has called for improved safety protections for underground miners.

EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell said the incident showed New Zealand urgently needed to strengthen its mine safety regime.

ABOUT THE MINE

The company has 400 employees in total and NWG claims 350-400 people in Waihi and the immediate region rely on the mine for their principal income. Underground work is done in shifts 24 hours a day. A limit of 72 people can be underground at any time for safety reasons.

The metal goes to the Perth Mint in Western Australia. In Perth, the gold is refined - separated into gold and silver and any impurities removed - before being sold via Newmont Denver on the spot market in London.

Newmont operates three mines in the area: Trio, Favona and Martha.

According to the company website, the Trio underground mine is situated under Union Hill and comprises three veins. It produces around 1 million tonnes of ore for approximately 200,000 oz of gold at 6-7 grams per tonne.

- Stuff

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