Two men die after wall collapses at Hunter Valley coal mine

Updated April 16, 2014 10:08:57

Two men have died at a coal mine collapse in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.

Police say the men, aged 35 and 49, were trapped about 500 metres below the surface, and 10 kilometres along the mine, when a wall collapsed about 9:00pm (AEST).

The accident happened at the Yancoal-owned Austar coal mine at Paxton, south of Cessnock.

Superintendent Garry O'Dell says six other workers in the area tried to help the injured men.

"The other miners attempted to render assistance to those men and unfortunately were unable to do so ... they had to come out of the mine due to their own safety as well," he said.

He said the other six men were "able to come out of the mine fine".

It is understood they suffered no major injuries.

Superintendent O'Dell says it will take "some time" before the bodies of the two men, from the nearby towns of Metford and Cessnock, can be released from the mine.

"There is a fair bit of equipment and coal in the area that needs to be removed to be able to get access to them," he said.

"Ten kilometres along the mine is quite some distance and they need to make sure all is safe along the way, so that's why it is a difficult process both to get to the point, and get the men out."

The cause of the wall collapse is under investigation by the Department of Resources and Energy as well as police.

Mining operations have ceased for the day as management informs workers of the incident.

A crime scene has been established and police will prepare a report for the Coroner. Mine has a 'chequered past': CFMEU

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's (CFMEU) Northern District president for mining and energy, Peter Jordan, says the incident occurred while a crew were operating a continuous miner.

It's a difficult mine, has been for many years.

Peter Jordan from the CFMEU

"There was a massive rip failure where a burst of coal came out from the rip - the wall of the mine - and buried part of the continuous miner and in dong so, buried two of the mine workers," he said.

Mr Jordan says he understands the "mine's been operating in a safe manner" despite having a "chequered past".

"There's nothing to immediately cause a concern to say that the mine was unsafe ... it's a difficult mine, has been for many years," he said.

"Back in and around 2000, under previous ownership, [the mine] caught on fire and it was closed."

He says the mine remained shut for many years before reopening under a new owner.

"There's certainly been some faults here and there but my understanding is that that's been addressed and the mine has continued to work in a reasonably safe manner."

The CFMEU's district secretary, Grahame Kelly, added the mining industry is "highly regulated ... which we think is a good thing".

"There are people within staff whose pure role is to look after the safety of people underground."

But Mr Kelly says for now the union's focus is on the families and colleagues of the two men who died.

"The matter here, from our perspective, is that a couple of miners have been killed ... our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those two members and also their workmates," he said.

He says more than 1,800 mine workers have been killed in the Hunter Valley coal mines since mining started.

"The good thing is, that in the more recent past, we haven't been adding too many names to the wall."

Topics:accidents---other, accidents, disasters-and-accidents, paxton-2325, australia, nsw

First posted April 15, 2014 23:15:29

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