Monday, November 22, 2010

Drowning Underground

Things are not going so well at my house these days.

A terminally ill family member, a surly teenager and a grumpy tween and to cap it off I’m “between engagements”.

So when it was said this morning, in passing, that we could be in danger of falling into a pit of despair, we took a deep breath and counted our blessings.

A true pit of despair is the Pike River Mine.

As Tom Petty says, “the waiting is the hardest part”, and I feel for the loved ones, wanting resolution.  But the accounts of the 2 survivors also makes for despairing reading.

The explosion was not the raging firestorm of imagination, but more a compression wave followed by the swirling white deadly smoke of carbon monoxide.  Daniel Rockhouse (actual name) describes the gradual paralysis of carbon monoxide poisoning as being like the feeling of your foot going to sleep but over your entire body. 

It sounds to me as though the men were drowning.  Drowning 2 kilometres underground.  What hell is this?

And so the nation starts to demand more and more loudly that rescue attempts begin.  This is anger born of emotion and is understandable amongst relatives and close friends.  But Superintendant Gary Knowles, whose heart is breaking and anger simmering, does not need to be challenged again by people with nothing at stake but a headline.  Ultimately it’s been the right thing to do for the men underground.  Let’s blunder in there and set the whole thing off again?  I don’t think so.

Other questions will need to be asked.

3 days to find a spark free robot for reconnaissance?  Air samples flown to a distant town for analysis?  Repairs needed this year to ventilation fans as conditions underground were worse than expected?  The ventilation shaft itself only accessible by helicopter as the mine is under Conservation land?  Was this mine really prepared for the worst?

If things had gone well this year this mine would have produced 170 million dollars in exports.  Nowhere near the return of say, “The Hobbit”.  I wonder if Gerry Brownlee and the government still thinks mining the Conservation Estate will be our saviour or whether the events of this week, where 29 lives may have been lost searching for minimal returns, has changed his mind?

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