The bodies of two miners killed in a tragic rockfall at the Austar Coal Mine yesterday have not yet been recovered, an operation which is expected to take several days.
Jamie Mitchell, 49, and Phillip Grant, 35, along with five other miners were working with a continuous miner on Tuesday night when a catastrophic rock burst, or “pressure bump” caused a 15 metre long wall of coal to collapse, covering the men and the continuous mining machine in many tonnes of coal.
It is believed the two men were killed instantly, as they were working on the side of the machine nearest to the rib of coal that collapsed.
Two other members of the work crew were positioned on the other side of the machine, and remained unscathed.
CFMEU president for mining and energy Peter Jordan interviewed the surviving workers, and commended them for their actions in the tragic situation.
“A lot of credit to those couple of miners in particular because they – their instinct just kicked in and, look, they just got in, they shored up the situation, they immediately put some props in to make sure that the roof was stable… and then immediately set about trying to retrieve their workmates,” he told ABC News.
“Upon looking at or investigating the situation, it became obvious quite quickly to those two mine workers that their two workmates were buried alive or maybe probably instantly killed.”
The work crew were using the continuous miner for preliminary development works in a new area of the mine, to gorge out new areas of the site ready for longwall mining.
University of Newcastle professor Garry Willgoose said the deceased workers had been carrying out one of the most high risk tasks in the mine, as they were working on a section of up to 20 metres at the front of the new tunnel, above and directly behind where they were drilling, which could not be immediately secured by rock bolts.
“The development stage…drilling tunnels for the construction of a longwall, is the most dangerous. They don't know the exact details of all the geology as they are drilling,” he said.
Professor Willgoose said pressure bumps were not uncommon in the types of geology the miners were working in, but they were difficult to predict.
“I am told by people who are familiar with that mine that this has happened before,” he said.
So far there have been nine mining-related deaths reported this financial year, with only two the previous period.