Britons, Australians in New Zealand mine blast

20th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britons and Australians are among 29 men who have not been heard from since an explosion rocked the New Zealand coal mine in which they were working, officials said Saturday.

A blast hit the Pike River mine on the South Island on Friday afternoon and its owners continue to hope the missing men -- ranging in age from a 17-year-old believed to be on his first shift to a 62-year-old -- are still alive.

The mine's chief executive Peter Whittall said the nationalities of eight of the 29 missing men were unknown but that Britons, Australians and New Zealanders were among those caught up in the accident.

"There were two Australians underground, at least two because as I said there's about eight we don't know their nationality," Whittall said.

Whittall said there were "three or four" British passport holders among the men but he did not know how long they had been living in New Zealand.

Britain's foreign office said it understood that two of its nationals could be among those believed to be trapped about 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) into the mine tunnel and about 150 metres from the surface.

"We understand that there are two British nationals among the missing miners. There may be others," a Foreign Office spokesman told AFP.

"We have been told that there are two and we are working to confirm that."

Australia said it held "grave concerns" for two of its citizens working in the coal mine, but said there could be other nationals affected.

"There are grave concerns for the safety of two Australians whose names are on the list of those trapped underground," a Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said.

© 2010 AFP

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