Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Where nature may win

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  • Lucy Stewart,

    I'd also like to ask the question about the complications involved in testing methane levels on a continual basis. How is it done? Can it even be done? Are there tricks or tools that can be used to detect it even with just a moderate level of certainty? Doesn't it have a distinctive smell?

    Matthew's better equipped to answer that than me; I do testing on bugs growing in test tubes or get data from geochemists testing seawater, neither of which are applicable to continuous testing and yes/no tests. I can tell you about determining exact levels, but that's something else. (In fact, I could really, really use a trace methane detector in the lab right now - it'd save me booting up the gas chromatograph every time I want to check the methanogens are growing!)

    Regarding cause-of-death, *if* they died of asphyxiation and *if* the bodies weren't then damaged in the second explosion, it should be possible to tell - if I recall correctly, carbon monoxide kills by preferentially binding to red blood cells and starving the body of oxygen, so it'd be in the blood. Methane would be in the lungs, if they'd been breathing it in, and as it's toxic there'd be breakdown products. But time isn't going to make things any easier, here - most decomposition is anaerobic and the mine is still being heated by smouldering coal, and it's definitely not dry. The methane levels aren't going to affect the internal anaerobes that take over decomposition, not for a while. Once they've worked away for a while, it'll be hard to determine much of anything.

    It can be possible to estimate time-of-death from the stage of microbial decomposition, but with the unusual conditions down there, it won't be easy. Plus it's relatively crude, as these things go. I honestly wouldn't hold out much hope of determining specific causes of death unless they're bleedingly obvious (i.e.: burning from explosion, trauma from falling rocks, etc), unless the bodies are recovered relatively quickly (within a week or two). With conditions the way they are - who knows if they ever *will* be recovered?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Regarding cause-of-death, *if* they died of asphyxiation and *if* the bodies weren't then damaged in the second explosion, it should be possible to tell

    I was meaning something far simpler - if they died within minutes of the first explosion, you'd be able to tell simply by where they are in the mine, ie in the places where they were known to be working at the time.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Thanks Lucy and Matthew.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Sacha,

    Sacha the top of upper queen street to the waterfront is about 2 km

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Except that, as we've heard, they don't actually know for certain where any of them were working. They know rough areas, but that's about it. It could be two groups, four groups, one group. I was a bit disturbed to learn that they know so little about the movement of men inside a dark, hazardous hole, TBPH, but at least they knew who was in there. So without knowing where in the mine any given man should've been, it's hard to know if they were where they were "meant" to be when they died.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    That's a great example. Maybe a cruise liner rather than a reporter then? :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19683 posts Report Reply

  • Dismal Soyanz, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Ah yes. If they were found in disparate areas that suggested they were working rather than say huddled together.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 310 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    Back-of-an-envelope calculations of what 2.5km looks like.

    Wellington - Railway Station along Willis St to Karo Drive.
    Auckland - Queen Street from Newton Road to Customs St.

    That's pleasant urban stroll in those cities, but imagine that underground, pitchblack, hot, and walking in a protective suit with breathing apparatus.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    I was a bit disturbed to learn that they know so little about the movement of men

    Newmont are developing a new underground mine at Waihi using latest technology which will include optic fibre lines providing proximity information on everyone in the mine - shutting down moving machinery if anyone gets too close. That's in a gold mine though where there's not the same risks with electrics.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Except that, as we've heard, they don't actually know for certain where any of them were working.

    Not for certain, but they had a rough idea. And again, without putting too fine a point on it, felled on the spot - as both of the survivors initially were - as opposed to huddled in one or more groups near fresh air bases, would tell the story.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    Not for certain, but they had a rough idea. And again, without putting too fine a point on it, felled on the spot – as both of the survivors initially were – as opposed to huddled in one or more groups near fresh air bases, would tell the story.

    Mostly. I imagine there are always going to be more specific questions - like "how long?" and "did they suffer?" which the families will want to know, and which may never be answerable.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    “how long?” and “did they suffer?”

    We don’t know, but it is likely that the initial compression wave was lethal, the survivors were halfway out and the compression wave nearly killed them. A compression wave would knock them unconscious and kill them pretty much instantly, such compression waves were often the cause of death during war particularly for soldiers in heavily fortified bunkers.

    My guess as to the next mostly likely causes would be asphyxiation as oxygen would have been used up in the initial explosion or if they had an oxygen source then carbon monoxide poisoning, both are reported to be painless deaths without suffering.

    In short I doubt they would have suffered and I doubt they would have had much warning. But we don’t know.

    However they died it is still tremendously sad for them, their families and for many other people, even those of us simply following the story in the media.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Herald slightly misquotes, then takes it right out of context, in order to devise a clearly misleading headline.

    Original quote:

    "If I could go back and re-think my opening address to them I would do it a thousand times (better).

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Nice tribute in parliament to the miners today.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Dismal Soyanz, in reply to 3410,

    "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 310 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    I have to say the pollies (both sides ) have handled this well
    Although as I typed I just heard Jimmbo Anderton demanding a no risk world
    So apart from him and he is always a special case they have done well
    Well apart from the Labour party accidentally using it as a fund raising opportunity and I am sure that was a genuine mistake over on Red Alert
    But it shows how careful you have to be in these cases

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 576 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    An odd statement, IMO, from Supt. Knowles that rescue crews were crying after the second explosion because they knew that they would have been killed, had they entered. [Source: RNZ 5:00pm news]

    Much more likely, surely, that they were crying - as we all were - because they knew that the men were lost.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Adzze, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    I see your false dichotomy and raise you a reductio ad absurdum.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    You've been trained to the max, you're ready & waiting to go---for days.
    The terrain & the circumstances mean all especial, hard-earned skills are -in abeyance.
    And then, as often happens I suspect, for highly trained rescue personnel - the whole thing blows up. If, as is reported (aue!) people cried, they're a phuquing lot morre human than I am.
    I'd be out there raving -ONLY because,
    everybody did what was required,
    everybody did what was requested,
    everybody did what they were trained for.
    Can we hear a huge appreciative solid* support move
    for the rescue personnel?

    * is there a fund we can donate to?

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Islander,

    Oh yes, dear Islander, indeed. I'm sure, if they had been allowed to, they would have been down there like a shot, without thinking of the risk to their own lives. Not a job I could ever do.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • chris,

    Something from a little closer to home: Together alone-Crowded House

    Together alone
    above and beneath
    we were as close
    as anyone can be
    now you are gone
    far away from me
    as is once will always be
    together alone

    anei ra maua (here we are together)
    e piri tahi nei (in a very close embrace)
    e noha tahi nei (being together)
    ko maua anake (just us alone)

    kei runga a Rangi (Rangi the sky-father is above)
    ko papa Kai raro (the earth mother is below)
    e mau tonu nei (our love for one another)
    kia mau tonu ra (is everlasting)

    Together alone
    shallow and deep
    holding our breath
    paying death no heed
    I'm still your friend
    when you are in need
    as is once will always be
    earth and sky
    moon and sea

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Dismal Soyanz, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    if they had been allowed to, they would have been down there like a shot, without thinking of the risk to their own lives.

    Well they would have been keen as hell but they wouldn’t be disregarding the risks. The difference being that they are trained to manage the risks they are likely to face. So they wouldn’t be going gung-ho but at a measured trot, if you get my drift.

    ETA: After all, the idea is to rescue the victims, not create further dangers.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 310 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Meanwhile, in that country that, apparently has no respect for human life or rights, they rescued their 29 miners within a day or so.

    Umm, really, China is your example?

    “Rescuers on Monday pulled to safety 29 people trapped in a flooded mine in southwestern China in a rare bit of good news for the country’s disaster-prone mining sector. …
    … Last year 2,631 Chinese miners died in the line of work, according to official statistics, but independent labor groups say the true figure is likely to be much higher as many accidents are believed to be covered up.” (From here, emphasis added.)

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1164 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Meanwhile, in that country that, apparently has no respect for human life or rights, they rescued their 29 miners within a day or so.

    You do know that flooded mines, and mines where miners are stuck because of rock falls etc are very different to bastard coal mines that can, and do, blow up without any warning do you not?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Islander,

    is there a fund we can donate to?

    Yes - see here.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

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