Britons among 27 miners trapped in New Zealand blast
Three or four Britons are among 27 miners trapped underground after an explosion at a coal mine in New Zealand, according to the facility's owners.
The families of the men still unaccounted for stood vigil as rescuers waited to find out whether the site was safe to enter.
Operators of the Pike River mine, in mountains on the west coast of the South Island, feared a power cut might have damaged the ventilation system, causing a potentially dangerous build-up of gas.
Air quality tests were carried out as they prepared to launch a rescue operation.
Several hours after the blast yesterday afternoon, five men stumbled to the surface with minor injuries. But, with communications cut, the condition of the remaining miners was unclear — or even if they were alive.
Tony Kokshoorn, mayor of the nearby town of Greymouth, warned that it could be days before rescuers were able to enter the stricken mine. “We are holding onto hope,” he said. “Look at Chile — they all came out alive.”
The explosion, at one of the country's largest coalmines, came about an hour after the start of the afternoon shift.
Chief executive of Pike River Coal, Peter Whittall, said the missing men were believed to be about 120 metres down, but up to 2.5 kilometres inside the mine, drilled into the side of a mountain.
Television footage showed blackened and singed trees nearby and smoke billowing from the top of a ventilation shaft.
An adjacent hut had been blown down, indicating that a powerful blast had shot up the shaft. Police said there could still be pockets of methane in the mine, with the electricity failure complicating efforts to pump air.
The five known survivors include the driver of a grader vehicle, Russell Smith, who was blown off his machine.
He escaped largely unscathed and was taken to hospital, along with an electrician, Daniel Rockhouse, who had been called in to investigate the blackout.
Mr Smith's sister, Glenda Brown, said her brother had no recollection of events.
A police spokeswoman said rescuers were “itching to get in there and start looking — (but) they can't just go charging in there and put other people at risk”.