The latest mining disaster to to capture the world’s attention is New Zealand.

If you haven’t heard, the Earth has swallowed another group of miners. This time in New Zealand. The tragedy and rescue of the trapped Chilean miners is fresh in our global consciousness.

The Chilean miners arrived this week in Los Angeles, California for a “heroes tour”. The miners, having survived 69 days in a Chilean mine, toured Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard in buses Thursday, receiving cheers and a hero’s welcome from passersby in the the street. Hopefully they will survive the ensuing media coverage. I am very happy for their rescue, but I am not sure what is heroic about waiting around to be saved. I think the rescuers are the real heroes.

In New Zealand, 27 miners were trapped Friday after an explosion in a Pike River Coal Company mine. A day later, fear for the fate of the trapped miners grows. Rescuers are currently waiting on air quality test before they enter the mine.

“Pike River Coal plans to drill a six-inch (15 centimeter) shaft as much as 150 meters from the surface into one of the mine tunnels to gather air samples, a process that may take as many as 16 hours. Sampling equipment will be lowered into a ventilation shaft as the company looks for an opportunity to send in rescue teams.”

From Wikipedia:

Thousands of miners die from mining accidents each year. Most accidents occurring in developing countries. Coal mining and hard rock mining are most dangerous.

“Mining accidents can have a variety of causes, including leaks of poisonous gases such as hydrogen sulfide or explosive natural gases, especially firedamp or methane, dust explosions, collapsing of mine slopes, mining-induced seismicity, flooding, or general mechanical errors from improperly used or malfunctioning mining equipment (such as safety lamps or electrical equipment). Use of improper explosives underground can also trigger methane and coal dust explosions.”

Worst US Mine Disasters

The United States Mine Rescue Administration keeps historical data on mine disasters in the United States. In April of 2010, an explosion killed 29 Massey Energy Company miners in Upper Big Branch Mine. It was the nation’s worst mine disaster in four decades. Mining accidents have killed 228 Americans since 1980.

“In the United States, mine accidents have declined dramatically because of decades of research, technology and preventive programs” New York Times