Tragedy has struck at the Austar Coal Mine at Paxton in New South Wales, with two men killed in an underground collapse.
A statement by mine owner Yancoal has said a team of seven Austar Coal Mine employees were working underground on the afternoon/evening shift when a wall collapsed.
It was reported that the other five employees received no physical injuries.
The incident occurred in Maingate 9 Development section of the Stage 3 Austar mine workings.
Police say a wall collapsed in the mine at 9pm Tuesday night, trapping two men 500 metres underground.
Emergency services were called to the mine at 9:15 pm and a major rescue operation was launched for the men, one aged 35 from Metford and one aged 49 from Cessnock, however they were pronounced dead a shortly after midnight.
NSW Police have established a crime scene at the mine for examination by forensic specialists, and all operations have ceased.
Central Hunter Police superintendent Garry O’Dell said the depth and distance along the mine will make recovery of the bodies a difficult process.
“It will be sometime before the miners are released from the mine. There is a fair bit of equipment and coal in the area that needs to be removed to get access to them,” O’Dell said.
“Five hundred metres down and 10kms across, the mine is quite some distance and we need to make sure all is safe along the way.
“That’s why it’s a difficult to get to the point and get the men out from that point.”
Superintendent O’Dell would not say what a possible cause of the collapse might have been.
“We are all working together to determine the cause of the collapse. The cause and the details is part of the investigation,” he said.
Yancoal Australia CEO Reinhold Schmidt issued a statement this morning.
“Our thoughts are with the families, colleagues and friends of the two employees in this tragic incident,” Schmidt said.
“The safety and wellbeing of all Austar Coal Mine employees and the 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.
“We are unable to confirm the cause of the incident and it would be inappropriate to speculate."
The Austar Coal Mine operates to a depth of 530 metres with coal seams 1300 metres long and 220 metres wide.
The mine employs over 400 staff and produces 3 million tonnes of coking coal each year.
Austar Coal has used a mining technique known as longwall top-coal caving, which Austar describes as the first system of its type in Australia.
“Austar Coal Mine’s parent company is acknowledged as being one of the safest and most productive users of this technique in the world,” the company said.
Yancoal said the wall collapse occurred in a development section of the mine several hundred metres away from where the longwall is located.
The development section is mined using a “bord and pillar” technique, a common mining method used throughout the industry.