Two miners killed in wall collapse at Austar coalmine in Hunter Valley

Police attend the Austar coal mine. Photograph: ABC

Two coal miners have been killed in an underground mine collapse in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.

They were working 500 metres below the surface and 10 kilometres along the Austar coal mine when a wall collapsed and trapped them about 9.15pm on Tuesday.

Other miners tried to save them but had to leave because of safety fears, police said.

A rescue mission was launched but both were pronounced dead three hours later. One was a 35-year-old from Metford and the other a 49-year-old from Cessnock.

"Two local men. A tragic incident for all people involved, the co-workers and families of the men," police superintendent Garry O'Dell said. "It is close-knit community and will be traumatic to many families."

O'Dell said safety issues and the location of the accident meant it was going to take "a number of days" before authorities would be able to bring out the bodies.

"It's going to be a lengthy recovery mission," he said. "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."

All mining has been stopped at the site, about 10km south of Cessnock. Workers were informed of the incident on Wednesday morning. "It's a very sad place at the moment," O'Dell said.

A crime scene has been established and will be examined by forensic officers. Several inquiries are being set up, including by the state government's trade and investment department and by Mines Rescue Services.

"Our thoughts are with the families, colleagues and friends of the two employees in this tragic incident," Yancoal Australia's chief executive, Reinhold Schmidt, said.

"The safety and wellbeing of all Austar coal mine employees and contractors is of primary concern and we are currently providing on-the-ground support to the families of the two employees and our other employees and contractors."

The NSW resources minister, Anthony Roberts, said lessons had to be learnt from the accident.

"An investigation is underway, with police and inspectors from NSW trade and investment's mine safety investigation unit currently on site," he said.

"I would like to personally extend my condolences to the families, co-workers and employers of those involved in this tragic incident."

Local federal MP Joel Fitzgibbon expressed his condolences via social media. "Thoughts & prayers for the Austar miners, their families, loved ones and mates," he tweeted.

"A shocking tragedy. And to the local families who will send a loved one to a mine today and tonight. Mine safety must never be a traded commodity."

According to Austar's website, the mine produces a coking coal with a seam "typically 4.8 - 6.5 metres thick".

The mine is the first in Australia to use the longwall top-coal caving system, a mining technique it says is "ideal for thick seams".

"Austar coal mine's parent company is acknowledged as being one of the safest and most productive users of this technique in the world," its website said.

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