Coal seam burning inside NZ mine where 29 men died

Coal inside the tragedy-hit New Zealand mine has caught fire and could burn for weeks.

Wellington: Coal inside a
New Zealand mine where the bodies of 29 victims of one of country`s worst industrial disasters remain has caught fire and could burn for weeks, a senior official said Tuesday.

The fire is the latest setback to family members and
rescuers waiting to retrieve the bodies from the Pike River
Coal mine on South Island.

The mine was rocked by an explosion on Nov. 19,
trapping the 29 men. A second major explosion five days later
dashed hopes any of the workers had survived.

There have since been two more explosions - with one
on Sunday shooting flames into the air and blowing a giant
extractor fan from the top of the main ventilation shaft.

Pike River mine chief executive Peter Whittall said
today that flames were leaping out of the ventilation shaft.
He said loose coal was definitely burning and possibly the
coal seam near the bottom of the pit.

"Seeing the smoke and getting the gases we`re getting
is just indicative of coal being on fire, so I don`t doubt
with the large explosions we`ve had, that a lot of roof coal
would be dislodged so there would be loose coal burning," he
told reporters.
Recovery crews hope to start a jet engine late today
to blow inert gases and water vapour into the blazing mine to
kill the fire and clear out the explosive gases. It could take
weeks to complete the task.

Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday that a
Royal Commission of Inquiry will investigate the disaster and
an international mine safety expert will carry out an urgent
safety audit of New Zealand`s four other underground coal
mines.

A national memorial service for the lost workers was
to be held Thursday in the nearby town of Greymouth.

Bureau Report