Police are “extremely positive” they can get to a worker trapped since early Thursday morning after a collapse at a Tasmanian gold mine, but say conditions are “dangerous”.
- The worker was about a 20-minute descent underground when his colleagues lost contact with him
- A thermal imaging drone and a robotic camera were deployed to search for him
- The man’s employer says he was working a night shift and was operating a loader fitted with safety equipment
The man has been missing since 4:00am at the Henty Gold Mine, after his colleagues lost contact with him and discovered a section of earth had collapsed.
At a press conference this afternoon, Tasmania Police Inspector Shane Le Fevre said the area where the man was trapped was “quite a long way down, it’s one of the lower levels of the Henty gold mine”.
“We’re extremely positive that we can get to the missing worker and get him out safely in the next little while.
“We’re positive that he’s certainly still with us.”
Inspector Le Fevre said there had been no contact with the worker since before the alarm was raised early this morning.
He said “upwards of 20 people have descended into the mine”, describing conditions as “extremely dark and extremely dangerous” with rescue teams were relying on mining personnel to guide them.
It is believed the missing man is a local from Queenstown.
Chief executive of mining services contractor PYBAR, Brendan Rouse, said the man was “on night shift, which typically starts at 7:00pm … and would’ve finished at 7:00am this morning”.
Mr Rouse said it was believed the man was operating a loader at the time, which was fitted with “safety equipment”.
“He was assigned to load a truck at the time, he was loading a truck — and it was a truck driver who identified when he didn’t come back for the next load.
“We’re all obviously very distressed and our main focus is trying to reach the worker.”
The Henty mine operations extend to a depth of around 800 metres — it is unclear at what depth the man is trapped.
He was about a 20-minute descent underground at the time of the collapse, police said.
On its website, PYBAR said it had conducted Mine Emergency Response and Rescue Underground (MERRUG) training at the Henty Gold Mine in Tasmania in 2019 — with the Henty emergency response team credited for their performance at the Tasmanian Minerals Council’s Mine Rescue Competition in October.
Mayor ‘hoping for best outcome’
West Coast Mayor Phil Vickers said his thoughts were with the missing man’s family, as well as staff and emergency services at the mine.
“When a person is unaccounted for you can only hope for the best outcome,” he said.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said other workers had evacuated the site.
“At this moment I can’t say much more than that, other than our thoughts and prayers are obviously with the missing worker and his family.”
The chief executive of the Tasmanian Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council, Ray Mostogl, said support had been offered to the mine.
“It’s a terrible situation whenever there’s an event like this in the mining industry,” he said.
“The industry has emergency response teams that are trained for each of the sites and we also have an annual emergency rescue competitions to help raise the standard, but also to share and collaborate.
“There are a lot of common practises that various mines have got.
“It’s a process that unfortunately we do have to practise and have expertise at. They’re putting that into practise now and we just hope it will be a positive outcome, time will tell.”
In a statement, Daniel Walton, national secretary Australian Workers’ Union, said “we have reached out to our members and spoken to a number of workers who are understandably shaken”.
“In circumstances such as these rescue efforts are extremely delicate and sensitive and our full support is with the specialists.
“It goes without saying that our thoughts are with the family of the trapped worker at this time.”
The Henty Gold Mine opened in 1996 and is near the towns of Zeehan and Queenstown in Tasmania’s West Coast region.
The mine went into care and maintenance in 2015, but reopened in 2016 with 120 workers after being bought by Diversified Minerals.
According to Diversified Minerals’ website, the mine lies in the “mineral rich” Mount Read volcanic belt.
It has an annual plant capacity of 300,000 tonnes a year, the website says.
The Henty Gold Mine is in Tasmania’s West Coast region, near the towns of Zeehan, Rosebery and Queenstown.