GREYMOUTH, New Zealand – Another underground blast ripped through a New Zealand coal mine on Friday almost a week to the minute after an earlier explosion caused the country's worst mining disaster in decades, with 29 killed.
No one was injured in the latest explosion at the Pike River Coal mine, which is filled with potentially explosive methane gas leaking from the coal seam.
The gas, plus a suspected fire smoldering deep underground that is a likely ignition source, has kept anyone from entering the mine since the first blast on Nov. 19 caught the 29 men inside. Hope that they had survived were dashed by a second huge explosion on Wednesday.
Pike River Coal chairman John Dow said the third explosion happened at 3:39 p.m. on Friday. The first explosion was recorded at 3:44 p.m. a week earlier.
Dow said the third blast was smaller than the earlier two, and that no one was near the mine entrance when it happened.
It would not affect planning for an operation to enter the mine to recover the men's bodies. Officials have said it could take weeks or months to complete the recovery operation.
"The environment continues to remain unstable," Dow told reporters. "The plans we have in place will continue. We have expected this will always be a possibility."
Workers are installing a jet-powered engine used to extinguish fires at the mine site. It will pump carbon dioxide, nitrogen gas and water vapor into the mine's tunnels to expel oxygen that could fuel more explosions.
Once that is done, workers wearing breathing apparatus could enter the mine.
New Zealand's mining industry is small and generally considered safe. The tragedy deeply shocked the country and devastated families who — buoyed by the survival tale of Chile's 33 buried miners — had clung to hope that their relatives could emerge alive.
The country has had 210 deaths in 114 years in mines. New Zealand's worst mine disaster was in 1896, when 65 died in a gas explosion at a mine on the same coal seam as the latest tragedy. The most recent was in 1967, when an explosion killed 19 miners in a mine near the Pike River site. A fire in a mine in 1914 killed 43.