As it was, he was one of two men who escaped from the Pike River Coal mine, at Atarau, 47km northeast of Greymouth, on the western coast of New Zealand's South Island.
The explosion, which occurred as he drove a loader into the mine to join his colleagues after arriving late by car, threw him about like a rag doll.
He was found some time later by fellow miner Daniel Rockhouse, 24, who helped the bewildered Mr Smith out of the mine. Mr Rockhouse's brother was among the 29 miners that were missing underground.
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson says there have been many similar stories. Those individuals who missed their flights on 9/11 have told their stories. The television documentary series 'Air Crash Investigation' has shown innumerable episodes where people were delayed and consequently didn't make those disastrous flights.
Any number of us have been held up at home for a minute or two by someone or some event, such as a phone call, as we were walking out the door. Had we left when originally planned, we too would have, presumably, been involved in that road accident that occurred just minutes before.
There are any number of such 'real life' stories. Some are made public due to the national focus such as Russell Smith. Most are not recorded in any such public media arena but only in the memories of those people around them.
"I find myself with a perennial theological question about 'what to say' about such incidents," ponders Mark Tronson.
Before addressing this question of the survivors, it must be acknowledged that in all such situations the real tragedies are those who died. The bereavement of their loved ones, families, friends, and work colleagues is never finished.
There are also less-well publicised disruptions to lives of those who are injured physically or psychologically (or both), and the tragedies of those ruined lives magnifies when we consider the families who provide ongoing care.
But having said that, there are still those people questioning their survival; the people who, for one reason or another, avoided some calamity because they missed a bus, got caught in traffic, took a phone call, attended to a child, stayed home with the flu, whatever.
In some cases, these people suffer from what the psychologists call 'survivor guilt'. It is similar to soldiers who survive a battle, yet have seen some of their mates killed. Some people in these situations, whether wars or accidents or natural calamities, have great difficulty for the rest of their lives in coming to terms with their survival while mourning for their friends and their lost futures.
Mark Tronson points out that Jesus responded to such an issue in the Gospel of Luke 13 verse 4 and 5 when a tower that was in construction collapsed and eighteen workers were killed.
In answering an unspoken question as to whether it was their sin, or put another way, the survivors' lack of sin, that was involved, He said that unless you repent, you too shall perish.
In other words, it was associated with the providence of God. And this therefore leads Mark Tronson to the many situations of Christian people too, whether they be missionaries or lay people who believed they were spared (from a calamity) for some special purpose.
We need to come back to the Scriptures to what Jesus said. As everyone is a sinner, it is therefore God's providence (and therefore part of His plan) whether people survive a tragedy or not. Jesus also said that if we don't repent, we are doomed to die – but as we are all going to die (remember Jesus story about the man who built the larger barn and his soul was required of him that very night), so what did Jesus mean?
Was this a parable for the afterlife, did he mean that we will not have everlasting life after we die, unless we repent? Let's read the text itself:
Luke 13 vers 4: (ISV) "What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them? Do you think they were worse offenders than all the other people living in Jerusalem?" And then the conundrum – verse 5: "Absolutely not, I tell you! But if you don't repent, then you, too, will all die."
This is what Mark Tronson thinks is the perennial theological question – how we interpret the second part of Jesus' answer.
Historical Christian thought has understood the philosophy of Jesus' answer that it is the Lord who grants us life, and our response as followers of Jesus is to live life to glorify God and serve others in so far as Jesus Himself atoned for our sins on the Cross.
The consequence of not repenting therefore, as Jesus spells out, is horrifying (and it's the ultimate message of sacrificial love). Yet, shock, this is the very issue that makes Christian theology so repulsive and objectionable to so many people, but it's what the Book of Life clearly states. It is hardly hidden from view.