Trapped teen was on first day in NZ mine

2010-11-22 11:15

Greymouth, New Zealand – A 17-year-old trapped in a New Zealand mine was not meant to work on the day the pit exploded, but persuaded bosses to give him a taste of underground life early, his mother said today.

With a broad grin and a thumbs-up, Joseph Dunbar entered the Pike River mine for the first time on Friday, ready to turn his troubled life around and start his dream job. He had just celebrated his birthday the day before.

But after excitedly entering the tunnel, the teenager has yet to return – trapped 2.5km from the entrance with 28 colleagues after a gas explosion.

People in the tight-knit Greymouth community on New Zealand’s West Coast described Dunbar as “a bit of a rascal” who was heading off the rails. But his mother Pip Timms said getting a job in the mine had turned his life around.

He was due to begin work Monday but “he was so excited and he just wanted to get down there“, she told TV3.
Timms’s brother-in-law, also a coal miner at Pike River, drove Dunbar to the pit and gave him the thumbs-up as he donned his miners’ gear for the first time.

“He was grinning from ear to ear and he gave the thumbs-up back. He was just so happy to be down there,” said Timms.

“It was what he wanted to do and for probably the last two weeks he came back to being the Joseph we loved and adored. I have no regrets about that. No conflicting emotions.”

Dunbar is the youngest of the 29 miners who have been trapped in the shaft since Friday’s explosion.

The presence of volatile gases in the mine has so far made a rescue attempt impossible and late Monday police conceded for the first time that there was possibly loss of life.

Timms said she was preparing herself for the worst.

“Friday night was the turning point for me. When I saw the shaft bent over the way it was, I just thought ‘nah’.

Because of my understanding of it I knew that it was a pretty extensive, big blast.”

Timms’s partner, brother-in-law and nephew all work in the mines, in a part of New Zealand where other job opportunities are scarce.

“There’s not much really going on around here that you can get as a career, and that’s how Joseph looked at it, it was his career,” she said.

“His first goal was to get there and he did that and then his next goal, which he spoke to me about last week, was to go to Australia,” where there is big money to be made in mining on the back of a Chinese-led resources boom.

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