The Dim-Post

November 26, 2010

Pike River logistics

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 8:16 am

Just a short break from my break to make a small point re some of the commentary around Pike River, best summed up by Ian Wishart:

Mine Blast: Cowardice in NZ Police

I am staggered that police have so far failed to enter the mine because of poisonous gas.

One man with breathing gear could sort this out.

Obviously I spent a bit of time dwelling on this whole tragedy, but I still can’t figure out how one person with breathing gear could effect the rescue of 29 people, and Wishart doesn’t expand upon his point.

The trapped miners were at the top of a two kilometre long tunnel inclining up into the mountain. It took the miners who escaped two hours to walk out, it’s going to take a rescue team carrying equipment and breathing gear at least that long to walk in, and maybe another thirty minutes to an hour to continue on to places where trapped miners could have reasonably be expected to be found. You then have to carry them out on a stretcher, which is a four man job (at least, mountain search and rescue teams use eight/person).

So let’s say four men can effect the rescue of one miner over a six hour period.

To carry out an effective rescue you’re going to be sending maybe ten teams, staggered. So let’s say forty men can rescue ten miners over eight hours with the time/miner increasing as each rescue team is travelling to more remote areas of the mine and taking longer to find each miner.

Now lets say you’re the rescue co-ordinator. You know that (a) the mine is still filling with explosive gas and (b) there is a fire somewhere inside the mine, so (c) each hour there is a non-zero, increasing chance of a second explosion. Your decision is whether it’s prudent to send forty men into that environment for eight hours to possibly effect the rescue of ten men who may or may not be alive, with a total rescue time of around thirty hours for all twenty-nine miners, with the risk of a secondary explosion and a situation in which you now have seventy men trapped/dead, seventy grieving families and so on.

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48 Comments »

  1. Come on, Danyl, there’s no place for calm reason at a time like this.

    L

    Comment by Lew — November 26, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  2. The first rule after an accident is don’t make the situation worse.

    There are times people will ignore that by taking a risk and be right, but it’s almost certain that had they done that at the mine they’d have been very badly wrong.

    Comment by homepaddock — November 26, 2010 @ 8:32 am

  3. A caller on Larry Williams on Wednesday (an older chap who sounded like he had a small white neatly clipped moustache) was saying they should have done “what they used to do in the army” – that is, call for volunteers and rush the tunnel.

    Williams verbally tore his head off. Rightly so.

    Talk is cheap.

    Lives aren’t.

    Comment by Rob Hosking — November 26, 2010 @ 8:36 am

  4. Danyl, you don’t know what you’re talking about. One man can do an awful lot. Didn’t you see any of the Die Hard films?

    And welcome back, even if your return is only short-lived.

    Comment by Scott — November 26, 2010 @ 8:37 am

  5. One of the biggest “problems” with the Pike River perception is that uncanny rescue of the Chilean miners. Too many people have that on their mind and think, well, this is a mine too so why isn’t it the same situation? But it’s a totally different kind of mine and kind of disaster.

    Comment by Nik — November 26, 2010 @ 8:43 am

  6. Wishart knows about mine rescues because he once wrestled with a man who had a knife.

    Go read it on his blog. That’s his answer to the criticism he is an armchair expert.

    Comment by Radman — November 26, 2010 @ 8:55 am

  7. All good points about the difficulties of rescue.

    Eventually, I would like to know what is different about the Pike River accident, compared to the Upper Big Branch accident in West Virginia in April of this year (see Wikipedia).

    Both accidents were coal mine explosions, toxic gases and a fire.

    In West Virginia, rescuers went down during the first 24 hours, before withdrawing for safety reasons. At Pike River they held back. Sadly the US rescuers only found bodies.

    I appreciate there may have been different factors involved. Inquiries will help us to understand what happened better.

    Comment by Graeme — November 26, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  8. (Apologies for bold tags. My mistake)

    Comment by Graeme — November 26, 2010 @ 9:18 am

  9. Facts? Logic? Reason? All irrelevant – the point is that Something Should Have Been Done, like in, you know, the good old days.

    Comment by Nathaniel — November 26, 2010 @ 9:26 am

  10. cold turkey is hard

    you made 16 days! Kudos!

    Comment by nommopilot — November 26, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  11. I would have loved to have seen, just once, the Superintendent let slip his grasp on formality and rip a new hole into the worst of those journalists.

    As for Wishart, I’m all for him putting his money where his mouth is and popping into the mine for a wee reccie – I’ll even pay his airfare down to Greymouth – but I won’t hold my breath for him coming back out.

    Comment by Ataahua — November 26, 2010 @ 9:38 am

  12. Three words for this post: Ex-fucking-actly. I’ve never worked in a mine, but have worked in hazardous environments, enclosed spaces, and occasionally both at the same time. This was never going to be as simple as the armchair noobs (calling them armchair experts is an insult to actual experts) in their deafening naivety thought it would be.

    Comment by samm — November 26, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  13. Danyl, you don’t know what you’re talking about. One man can do an awful lot. Didn’t you see any of the Die Hard films?

    That’s really the key issue — the CSI effect, in a sense.

    You can imagine the movie narrative: the miners who escaped stagger into the sunlight to raise the alarm. Everyone springs into action, working round the clock to get a team together. Some experts are brought in; they tell the CEO that the men are dead. The CEO shouts at them about never giving up, and overrules their concerns. They send the robot in and it breaks down — the lesson here is not “it’s too dangerous”, but rather, “we should have sent people in”. So a squad of square-jawed men suit up…

    Comment by Repton — November 26, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  14. The comments on his post – in agreement with Wishart and accusing all in sundry of ‘cover up’ – make me weep.

    It’s like the ignorance of interest.co.nz comments, the bile of kiwiblog comments, and the echo-chamber of TheStandard comments had a threesome, and gave birth to Wishart’s garbage.

    Comment by Phil — November 26, 2010 @ 10:17 am

  15. and, you’re assuming that there isn’t a tunnel collapse preventing the rescuers to get to the trapped miners.

    which could be the reason none of these guys walked out themselves…

    this whole tragedy has smacked of media drama and assholes with bravado.

    Comment by Che Tibby — November 26, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  16. ps. have never worked in a mine, but i have worn extremely heavy breathing equipment on many occasions. you know how many pressurised tanks you’d need for four men, exercising hard?

    many.

    Comment by Che Tibby — November 26, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  17. Weta Workshop could have done it in no time, using CGI.

    Comment by kahikatea — November 26, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

  18. Welcome Back http://monkeyswithtypewriter.blogspot.com/2010/11/pike-river-its-all-coming-back-on.html

    Are we going to get to the bottom of this – and is this beyond politics – well, yes, and no. No one is looking for one person to bear the cross for this – but one thing is for sure we are all bearing it right now. None more heavily than the families of the deceased.

    Comment by Monkey Boy — November 26, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

  19. “It’s like the ignorance of interest.co.nz comments, the bile of kiwiblog comments, and the echo-chamber of TheStandard comments had a threesome, and gave birth to Wishart’s garbage.”

    I spent way too long trying to swim against the raging torrent of pure stupid at TBR.cc back in 2007. I’ll never get that four hours back.

    Comment by Sam Finnemore — November 26, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  20. The fog of stupidity didn’t seem to fall preferentially on any particular part of the political spectrum and even Bomber Bradbury on this issue was a shining example of common sense and decency compared to Brian Edwards.

    And it continues, this from scoop:

    The question regarding a comparison with firefighters running into burning buildings on 9/11 was legitimate – it was thought out by the experienced reporter who asked it.

    It’s so obviously stupid. And -

    Advice seems to now be emerging that the only safe time to mount a rescue mission would have been in the first four hours after the explosion – before methane could build back up.

    eve if this wasn’t a myth, as Danyl points out it would take much longer than 4 hrs.

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1011/S00229/pike-river-after-the-second-explosion-scoop-editorial.htm

    Comment by NeilM — November 26, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

  21. “The question regarding a comparison with firefighters running into burning buildings on 9/11 was legitimate”

    Yes, if you are an ignorant attention seeking hack. The firefighters were ordered out of those buildings once it became apparent they could come down. If that had been known at the outset they wouldn’t have gone in. As it was hundreds of them died for little gain. All that question does is undo the point the questioner was trying to make. Own goal, and thoroughly deserving of the contempt it received.

    Comment by samm — November 26, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

  22. I think wishart and yourself may have over egged this and in extremely bad taste. get a grip.

    Comment by JULIAN — November 26, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

  23. Great to se you back
    See cold turkey is not a festive dish and this is the festive season

    Comment by Raymond A Francis — November 26, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

  24. @Phil – you nailed it.

    Comment by jps — November 26, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

  25. The secondary explosions are exclamations marks on the sentence, “Wishart will adopt any belief that suits his world view”.

    Comment by Richard — November 26, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  26. A small, tactical, nuclear explosion above the ventilation shaft could have sucked all the poisonous gasses out, allowing fresh air to flood in. Except Labour gave away our nukes in 1984, etc…

    Comment by gazzaj — November 26, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  27. browsing thru the Kiwiblog threads the fact that there have been more explosions has not only not changed the opinions of the wise ones who determined the police to be incompetent and the resucuers cowards but they are all feeling so very hurt that anyone should suggest what they are saying is not just wrong but in very poor taste. Poor them.

    How come some people get such marvelous abilities at self-justification.

    Comment by NeilM — November 26, 2010 @ 7:35 pm

  28. This is the most grotesque straw-man I’ve read for a long time. Ignoring the fact that we now know there was a four day window (yes, I know, in hindsight), the size of the survey party was nothing like forty people. Everyone knew that there was little chance that anyone down survived longer than a day. It’s obscene to suggest that forty people would be sent in under those circumstances. The police barred the entrance, preventing people with far more training and knowledge of the risks from entering. There were many people who wanted to go. They wouldn’t even let one person in to check for survivors. That’s why people are angry.

    Comment by Will — November 26, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

  29. The police barred the entrance, preventing people with far more training and knowledge of the risks from entering.

    And given they did this on the advice of mine rescue experts, who had more knowledge than those people wanting to charge in, kind of makes your statement a grotesque straw man.

    Comment by Richard — November 26, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  30. who had more knowledge than those people wanting to charge in

    Bullshit. The people who wanted to go in, and there were many of them, were not children.

    Comment by Will — November 26, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

  31. The people who wanted to go in, and there were many of them, were not children.

    Fortunately the cops were there to stop them killing themselves looking for bodies in a mine full of methane.

    Comment by gazzaj — November 26, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  32. A 2 kilometre tunnel, going uphill?
    CH4 and O2 would be accumulating at the top end.
    CO2 would be leaking out the bottom end.
    There was a fire and smouldering.

    Entering that shaft would have been stupidity.

    I just wish Wishart had volunteered.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — November 26, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

  33. Fortunately the cops were there to stop them killing themselves looking for bodies in a mine full of methane.

    What disgusts me the most about this thread is the inference that the guys who wanted to go in were uneducated morons.

    Comment by Will — November 26, 2010 @ 9:38 pm

  34. What disgusts me the most about this thread is the inference that the guys who wanted to go in were uneducated morons.

    Aside from the families the guys who most wanted to go in were the mining rescue teams, who did not go in because they AREN’T uneducated morons.

    Comment by danylmc — November 27, 2010 @ 5:24 am

  35. A terrible tragedy that thankfully wasn’t made worse by sending teams of guys leaking oxygen into a mix of propane gas and burning coal.

    That the families have closure of some kind now is a small mercy.

    Comment by leon — November 27, 2010 @ 6:02 am

  36. Replace propane with methane. Early.

    Comment by leon — November 27, 2010 @ 6:07 am

  37. What does Will do for a living, Will?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — November 27, 2010 @ 10:21 am

  38. Reading Wishart?

    Call that taking a break??

    Comment by Me Too — November 27, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

  39. Nice to have you back Danyl even if only briefly

    The “window opportunity” was dealt with by MacDoctor (someone with actual mining experience) in a comment at NotPC (the main post is offensive beyond belief and has been skewered by Imperator Fish) http://pc.blogspot.com/2010/11/guest-post-it-greens-stoopid.html

    While some experts were talking about a short window after the accident in which someone could have entered the mine, they were only talking in terms of methane build up. After the explosion has burnt through all the methane there is a space of 4-6 hours in which methane is at “safe” levels. This observation, of course, ignores the lethal build up of carbon monoxide, the need for special respirators and the possibility of cave-in and underground fires. In also ignores the fact that methane build up after an explosion is dangerously unpredictable, as collapse of methane-bearing coal can occur. The “window” therefore was not safe in any normal sense of the word.

    I note that the distance to the first cross cut at pike river is a very long 1200m and that the miners were over 2km in. It would have been practically impossible for a rescue crew to get to them in the “safe” window, even if the crew had been waiting, ready to go, at the time of the explosion.

    This report in the NZ Herald may also shed light on why no-one entered.

    BTW Guy Body nailed it yesterday in the Herald
    http://media.nzherald.co.nz/webcontent/image/gif/Cartoon1155.gif

    Comment by TerryB — November 27, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

  40. This is not a suggestion of what should or should not have happened, this is just an armchair counter to DIM’s arm-chair logistics which critiques Wishart’s arm-chair “let a single volunteer go in” on the basis it is impractical for effecting a rescue.

    Winding the clock back to a day after the blast, it may have been beneficial to allow a two man volunteer team in – not to expect them to carry out 29 people in one go – but determine if there were survivors, miraculously trapped and protected from the gases by a tunnel cave-in or similar. Any information brought back might have radically altered the approach, danger not withstanding.

    Covering that distance on foot, kitted up with oxygen tanks looks to be near impossible, but given they sent an electric robot in, perhaps an electric buggy with extra oxygen was possible – the tunnels are apparently wide enough to ship out coal and get large equipment in? Perhaps something like that was possible, but ruled out because of the overall risk profile?

    Obviously, all speculation based on informed opinion, so we need to trust the experts. That does not negate the argument that one man might have been be able to gather important information in the immediate aftermath of the blast that may have been helpful. I think volunteers prepared to go in, should at least be treated as something other than idiots.

    Sure, I’m commenting from an armchair, like everyone on the blogosphere, but I am prepared to say if it was my son in there, I would be willing to take the chance of going in, if offered.

    There’s strong opinions all ways on this, but they are all generated by concern for the people, so I think it worth being more open minded about people’s range of opinions. Whilst I think the crisis was handled well, it’s fully understandable the emotional reactions. Perhaps with more information available to the public, some of the speculation would have diminished, but good problem solving can benefit from unorthodox approaches.

    Comment by ZenTiger — November 29, 2010 @ 10:09 am

  41. So magic up a sparkproof electric buggy and roll in for a look? Without waiting for the time it takes to gather any other information? This is supposed to be a more feasible option?

    Re the 9/11 thing, I didn’t write the editorial and I don’t actually know the details. But the thing about asking daft questions is that you can get told. If a reporter is ignorant of basic facts someone probably needs to put them in front of the public too. The guy who asked the country-cop question, he got told (and admittedly judith collin’s reaction to that one is shaping my defensive opinion on this issue). And comments here about why the 9/11 comparison would make admirable and useful answers that one.

    On the other hand, it’s a moment-to-moment call whether someone is trying to elicit information or being a belligerent moron.

    Comment by lyndon — November 29, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  42. Winding the clock back to a day after the blast, it may have been beneficial to allow a two man volunteer team in – not to expect them to carry out 29 people in one go – but determine if there were survivors, miraculously trapped and protected from the gases by a tunnel cave-in or similar. Any information brought back might have radically altered the approach, danger not withstanding.

    Ok. Let’s say a two-man team makes it in and discovers wounded survivors. They lack the capability to help the survivors, so they turn around and head back out to bring the news.

    Then the experts explain that methane has been building up, and it is no longer safe to go back.

    Imagine you are a family member. Is that better?

    Comment by Repton — November 29, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

  43. nice… “yup. they’re mostly alive. left them some water and a magazine. told them we’d be back in a jiffy, we’re just a bit curious about the whole ‘surviving the explosion in confined space filled with flammable gases and fragile tunnels thing’.”

    Comment by Che Tibby — November 29, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

  44. That’s right boys, better not to know if there are survivors in case you can’t rescue them immediately or at all, we could even extend that brilliant idea to other types of search and rescue, how about: “don’t search, save millions” as a slogan?

    Comment by Andrew W — November 29, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

  45. You have apparently missed the main point of my comment, which was more to easing back on the arm-chair sniping, given the point we all had a common wish in this tragedy.

    Instead, you continue the sniping.

    To play this rather silly game then (given the assumption the rescue teams made the right call), your point that it isn’t worth going in once if you can’t bring them out at that exact point doesn’t necessarily stack up. Given the wide spread of the tunnels, and the fact that they expected there were three groups of miners in different locations, and that they were drilling from above to determine if any area had a different air quality, (perhaps due to a tunnel cave in following the blast) it might have made a huge difference to have a better idea of the situation. If they had of been in a position to go in after the first day, that still meant a few days before the second explosion.

    we’re just a bit curious about the whole ‘surviving the explosion in confined space filled with flammable gases and fragile tunnels thing’.”

    Initially, the rescue teams held some small hope there was a chance they survived. Perhaps it was that the fragile tunnels collapsed well ahead of where the teams were, thus creating that slim chance of survival. It may not have been the case, but no need to be such a sad sack about it.

    On an unrelated story last week, experts had called off a search for three boys lost at sea in a small boat. Chances of survival after 5 weeks of intense searching, lost in the open sea, close to zero. Yet they were found 50 days later, out of the main sea lanes, close to death but still alive.

    So magic up a sparkproof electric buggy

    It doesn’t require magic. It’s fairly easy to find an electric buggy. It is probably as spark proof as the robots they sent in, and manage water better. For example:

    Damascus Corporation was founded in Damascus, Virginia in 1980. At that time, the company produced pneumatically operated rock dusting equipment and hydraulic drills for the underground coal mining industry. The business enjoyed a steady growth and became known for its quality products in the region comprising Southwest Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

    A response to other needs of the industry resulted in the creation of small, battery-operated personnel carriers in 1984. These 3-wheel, 2-man vehicles, designed to utilize golf cart components in their assembly, were found to be economical, durable and extremely functional by mine operators. They became very popular as runabouts, moving personnel, tools and parts underground in coal seams as low as 29 inches.

    The success of this versatile little vehicle brought an awareness of the need for a slightly larger, mid-sized carrier. As a result, the MAC-8 transporter was designed and introduced in 1987 as an eight-to-ten-man personnel carrier. These battery-powered vehicles quickly earned a reputation for rugged dependability, and custom designs offered higher carrying capacities of people and materials, overhead protection, configurations for various coal seam heights and other specialized options.

    Sparky electrical equipment has been identified as a key factor of coal mine explosions, and there is now a range of “permissible” equipment engineered for purpose. I’m assuming that the equipment would have been available had other factors not precluded its use, but my point was to simply offer an alternative view to DIM’s pronouncement that one man going in would be pointless. It may not have been, given the right conditions.

    Comment by ZenTiger — November 29, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

  46. Ian Wishart brought you back? Ian Wishart? I mean, glad you’re back and all, but…

    Comment by Helenalex — November 30, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  47. the only positive side to this tragedy. having to talk in cold, hard science.

    it’s exposed exactly how many online commentators and other pundits continuously talk out their wahoo.

    with politics being so subjective it’s nice to have the blow-hards exposed.

    not looking at anyone in particular there zentiger.

    Comment by Che Tibby — November 30, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

  48. Good on you Che, you tell it like it is. You might need to ignore half of what I wrote, but surely that has no bearing on the other half?

    Comment by ZenTiger — November 30, 2010 @ 9:51 pm


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