Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Recovery team to enter Pike River mine in search of bodies three years after explosions

The decision is a victory for grieving families of the victims who have campaigned untiringly, often in what seemed the face of official intransigence, since the disaster for the return of their loved ones.

After the relatives had been told of the re-entry plan at a meeting in the South Island town of Greymouth on Tuesday morning, Simon Bridges, the Energy and Resources Minister, announced that NZ$7.2 million (£3.6 million) had been set aside for the attempt.

Under the plan, the mine will be made safe for experts to walk as far as a rockfall in the mile-and-a-half long entry tunnel. The rockfall was caused by the explosions.

"Our criteria are that any re-entry into the tunnel up to the rockfall is safe, technically feasible and financially credible," Mr Bridges said.

"This is a highly complex and technical operation and it will be carefully managed in stages, with a risk assessment undertaken at each stage."

If successful, a further plan could be developed to re-enter the main mine workings beyond the rockfall, where most, if not all, of the men's bodies are believed to be entombed.

"The Government cannot comment or speculate about re-entering the main mine until the tunnel re-entry has been successfully achieved," Mr Bridges said.

Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael, 23, and has passionately articulated the anguish and frustration of the bereaved since the disaster, greeted the announcement, saying: "Today is a big day for the families."

Although he thought his son was unlikely to be in the tunnel that will be opened, he said: "I may never get my son back, but other families might get their men."

The work is due to begin in October and Laurie Drew, who lost his son Zen in the explosion, said he liked to think he could have him back for Christmas.

Damien O'Connor, the local MP, said: "It's a huge technical challenge, but one step at a time, that's all the families have asked for.

"It has been a long time, it's been an agonising wait."

The 29 miners died after four explosions ripped through the coal mine over several days from November 19, 2010.

Britons Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrew's in Fife, and Peter Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, were among those killed.

Mr Campbell was due to marry his Kiwi fiancee just a month later, and Mr Rodger lived in Greymouth with his girlfriend.

The youngest victim, Joseph Dunbar, who was just 17, was on his first day at work.

Tuesday 3 September 2013



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