I had restless dreams last night. Mostly about the poor miners and their families.
All night I kept yelling out "purge the mine with nitrogen!!". I was thinking about this a couple of days ago when it was still a rescue operation, but later I realised if they purged the mine with nitrogen, it would take away the breathable air too, and if anyone was alive, they would suffocate.
For those that are unaware, the air around us is approx 79% nitrogen gas, and 21% oxygen (with a few other bits in there as well). The nitrogen is inert - meaning it doesn't react with our bodies or easily take part in chemical reactions. So we breathe it in and out, and it doesn't take part in respiration.
If the rescuers flooded the mine with nitrogen gas (instead of normal air which has oxygen in it), it could displace all the toxic gases, possibly put out any remaining fires and push out all the wastes through a vent. Meaning that for a short amount of time the explosive combos inside would be eliminated and the recovery of the bodies could go ahead.
I see from several articles this morning they are already considering purging the mines with carbon dioxide or nitrogen, so I think its just a matter of getting the generator in, and starting the process.
My gut feel is that the poor men in there probably suffocated very quickly after the first explosion. While there was a compressed air line going into the mine, chances are the first explosion knocked many of them out, and then the carbon monoxide gases generated from the incomplete combustion of the coal and methane just kept them unconscious until their bodies shut down. Probably a very peaceful way to go. Hopefully the search and recovery reveals this was the case.
My heart goes out to the whole community. We watched all the faces and realised that they could have all been men we have both worked with in various industrial environments. So, so sad.