PRAYERS have been said in Middlemount for the safe return of Josh Ufer – one of the 29 miners trapped underground in the New Zealand pit ravaged by a gas explosion on Friday.
The Central Queensland mining town is reeling from the news that one of its own is missing.
Josh, 27, a drilling expert, spent years in Middlemount with his family and his mum, Joanne, who still lives in Laver Street.
Joanne has flown to the Pike River colliery on the South Island where rescuers were yesterday attempting to bore through to the horizontal shaft where the trapped men might be located.
It has been revealed that Josh’s distraught fiancee, Rachelle Weaver, is expecting the couple’s first child in May. According to the Herald Sun in New Zealand, Rachelle’s mother Nancy Langley said her daughter was “trying to cope as best she could”.
“She’s distraught and waiting for any kind of news just like everyone else.”
A spokesman at Middlemount Catholic Church said yesterday the congregation had prayed for Josh and the Ufer family.
“In a community like this, news of any mining tragedy resonates strongly,” the spokesman said.
Isaac Mayor Cedric Marshall spoke of the anguish of Josh’s friends and former workmates in Middlemount.
“It’s a close-knit community. Most will know Josh and his family. Our thoughts go out to all the families caught up in this. I know there was a surveyor from Middlemount who is also working at that mine in New Zealand. He came out of the pit just before the explosion,” Cr Marshall said.
Josh works for Valley Longwall Drilling and it is understood he was on secondment to the mine. His father, Karl, also previously lived in Middlemount but is now based in Townsville.
He is also involved in the mining industry and travelled to Pike River from China.
Friends of Josh described him as a larrikin who worked hard and partied harder.
“Josh is determined and works hard. He is strong and would punch through the rock to get out of there. If anyone is to survive, it will be him,” one friend told reporters.
Josh is one of two Australians among the 29.
The second man has been confirmed as Fraser Coast father Willy Joynson.
The 48-year-old, who grew up in Howard, is believed to have been travelling back and forth from New Zealand to the Tinana home where his wife and two children have lived for the past 12 months.
There’s a Central Queensland connection too in the rescue efforts.
A team sent by the Queensland Government to assist the teams working to reach the trapped men is led by Ken Singer, the deputy chief inspector of coal mines who worked extensively in CQ’s coalfields.
The Queensland team includes two experienced gas chemists, Darren Brady and Lauren Forrester, an expert on mine gas monitoring systems. Their efforts will be crucial to determine when it is safe to send rescuers in to search for the missing miners.
There has been no communication with the men since the explosion and there were fears yesterday afternoon that an underground fire would hamper attempts to reach them.
Officials admitted there were “huge risks” involved in getting to the men and that there were grave fears for their safety.
"I thought I was dead. All I could think about was seeing my wife and kids again."
Those were Daniel Rockhouse's final thoughts as he collapsed inside the smoky, suffocating darkness of the Pike River mine moments after a blast came out of nowhere and deadly carbon monoxide gas began to fill his lungs.
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