Criminal charges filed in New Zealand mine explosion that killed 29
The charges, filed by the nation’s labor department, point to numerous health and safety violations at the Pike River coal mine. Each carries a maximum fine of $195,000, officials said.
Criminal charges resulting from an industrial accident are rare, and officials did not name the three parties cited in the case, citing New Zealand's privacy laws involving court proceedings.
On Nov. 19, the mine was rocked by an explosion that trapped 29 men. A second blast five days later dashed lingering hopes by family members for the kind of heroic rescue that had occurred in Chile.
Although the investigation into the mine disaster continues, officials said they filed charges to meet a mandatory one-year statute of limitations that is soon to expire.
The probe centers on the mine's single entrance and its ventilation system, which experts say was inadequate to allow for the proper release of volatile gases such as methane. Some say the cash-strapped mine might have cut safety corners.
The bodies of the mine workers have yet to be recovered, and government officials say that even if the mine is sold by the now-bankrupt owners, Pike River Coal Ltd., any new buyers must make an effort to find the victims.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: Family members react in November 2010 after they were told that 29 workers missing underground in Pike River mine were believed dead after a second explosion. Credit: Ross Setford / Associated Press