The Pike River explosion has sent shockwaves through the mining industry as New Zealand boasts stringent safety mechanisms to prevent such a blast.
Coal mining underground is inherently dangerous because miners inevitably come into contact with noxious or highly combustible gases such as methane.
Gas in coal mines has come to be seen as an ever-present but manageable risk.
Safeguards are in place to minimise any such explosions.
Pike River is a modern mine, equipped with escape shafts and the latest ventilation systems and has only been in operation since 2008.
Mining expert professor Dennis Buchanan from Imperial College, London, explained: “Coal mines are by far the most dangerous environments to work in because of the pervasive problems of methane gas and coal dust explosions.”
Coal mines in China, the Ukraine and Russia have unenviable safety records, but New Zealand is seen as a world leader in mining safety.
Professor Buchanan added: “What’s really surprising is this is a very modern mine in a country which has very, very stringent enforcement of all regulations.
“Therefore there would be a heightened awareness of this kind of risk.
“It’s in New Zealand within a modern mine using the latest technology, in that sense it’s very alarming and very puzzling.”