How can armchair experts know more than people at the coalface?

The mother of one of the miners trapped in the Pike River mine said she accepted he was dead as soon as she heard of the explosion.

Other miners knew this too.

West Coast miners knew their 29 mates at Pike River were a lost cause before the official announcement on Wednesday, a union convener in Solid Energy’s nearby Spring Creek pit says.

Pessimism was based on gas readings showing alarming levels of toxicity and the likelihood of further explosions, as the mine remained on fire, said Trevor Balderson, a night-shift development worker who heads a crew of six at Spring Creek, 40km from Pike River.

“The initial explosion wiped out all the infrastructure,” said Mr Balderson, who moved to the West Coast in 2008, after a Yorkshire colliery closed in 2002.

“If you talk to any coal mine workers anywhere in the world, the reality is that you do not survive an explosion if you are in the firing line,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper.

This doesn’t stop armchair experts criticising the people in charge of rescue attempts and asking why a resuce wasn’t attempted sooner.

As I said in my first post on this tragedy, the first rule after an accident is to make sure the situation doesn’t get worse.

I posted on Wednesday morning about carrying hope in your heart even when your head knows that’s impossible.

The rescuers didn’t have the luxury of emotion, they couldn’t act from their hearts. They had to act from their heads in the knowledge they couldn’t endnager more lives when it was almost certain there was no-one left to save.

Some of the armchair experts are still calling for speed now it’s a recovery mission rather than a resuce.  But there is no case for risking more lives in the mine when, after three explosions and a fire, there are no longer any there to be saved.

Kathryn Ryan interviewed some real experts on this topic  yesterday morning.

And (hat tip: Keeping Stock)  Guy Body shows the destructive gas starting to disperse.

7 Responses to How can armchair experts know more than people at the coalface?

  1. pmofnz says:

    A distinct lack of urgency has prevailed in this whole saga. If the wisdom was that it was all over a week ago, why did they not come out and say so immediately instead of stringing the families on hanging onto to hope?

    After initially asking the same questions early on, I did some reading online to become an informed armchair expert. All indications from other similar events are that the first explosion is fatal.

    Whilst miracles may occur, being upfront about the realities is always the best option. That is what is needed to be taken from this tragedy.


  2. Richard says:

    Ah, pmofnz, yet another arm chair expert. But cannot resist commenting. V difficult call to make after the first explosion. Do you come out and say there there are no survivors when there is no proof? I think not.


  3. I thought Danyl nailed it with his post on the logistics of a rescue in a hostile environment

    It is interesting that all the actual experts have said the rescue / recovery operation has been run very well.


  4. Simon says:

    “A distinct lack of urgency has prevailed in this whole saga”

    Rubbish, do you claim to know more than the experts with decades of experience, knowledge and training, they were doing everything they could from the getgo to attempt a rescue without needlessly sacrificing more lives.

    Would you rather they came out and said immediately after the explosion, that they are all dead, there is no chance or hope? Of course they aren’t going to say that and write off any chance of survival until they know beyond 99% certainty that is the case when all the facts and relevant data has been collected.

    The arrogance and sheer ignorance of the armchair heroes such as Ian Wishart has been outstanding, see

    It’s certainly brought out a very ugly side of a sizeable minority of Kiwi’s, those who played the blame game, ie comparing the rescuers with the 9/11 firefighters etc, when they most needed support.


  5. gravedodger says:

    You sum it up well, I am not a miner and I get uncomfortable among high buildings such as in parts of Wellington.
    My head told me on Saturday that the outcome was dire for the 29 souls but with the almost miraculous escape of the two in the access tunnel some small hope existed in my heart.
    However those charged with the burden of responding to the first explosion had to respond within the safety procedures laid down from all the history of such incidents and that was a situation with all the awesome burdens and raw emotion that was so evident. Mine rescue teams, made up of experienced fellow miners, and motivated with a “sprit de corps’ that people who work under danger and with such a degree of comradeship such as that in this dangerous and tragedy riddled industry’s history, have a desire to first search for survivers and then when that is no longer an option retrieve their comrades. All miners accept that situation and I doubt if any would want their mates to expose themselves to pointless danger to effect a desired result.
    Three youths were given up for dead in the Pacific, they had had a memorial service for their apparent demise, were found by another vessel where it should not have been, and after nearly two months at sea in an open boat were “saved” in what could only be described as a miraculous outcome.
    Until ‘probable’ becomes much more certain, those in the disaster management team at Pike River Mine acted within well established procedures, their caution was justified by subsequent events, their hopes were genuinely held onto and now most of us will wait in the hope that the exact cause will be established and hopefully addressed to prevent a recurrence.
    Kaitangata, Huntly, Brunner Strongman and now sadly, Pike River, over two hundred dead in what are referred to as mine disasters while many hundreds more have died in this very dangerous activity. In the 10 years at the start of the 20th century some 140 miners were killed at the Denniston Mine and nearly 100 of them were individual deaths in a variety of tragedys. That was a “Pike River” every two years.
    Those involved with underground coal mining know the risks whether they admit them or not and we have had more than one tale of a young man doing a stint at Pike River to gain some money for whatever reason and others doing it for reasons that defy my fear of even contemplating going down the pit. Death, particularly so many in one instance is nearly always inexplicable to many, but they chose and the tragedy will be with those left behind till their dying day.
    RIP the 29 souls at Pike River, I earnestly hope your untimely deaths are not in vain.


  6. Psycho Milt says:

    How can armchair experts know more than people at the coalface?

    Simple – they watch a lot of movies. In their minds, this crisis needed a manly hero to reject the caution of the heartless bureaucrats, brave the dangers of the mine alone and lead the miraculous survivors to safety, being the last to leave just as the second, bigger explosion arrived on cue to throw him to the ground but leave him unscathed.


  7. JC says:

    Re rescue as opposed to “recovery”.

    The first blast and subsequent gasses may have killed all the miners, but “rescue” is a code word for saying never give up and to hope for survival. It permeates and motivates rescue teams the world over to direct their efforts to life, not death.

    In the cold light of 100% death at the investigation(s)this principle may be described as wrong and heartless for giving families hope.. but in the real world its the only way to ensure we don’t end up as calculating machines.



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