Monday, 21 October 2013

Bid to retrieve Pike mine workers starts

The first step towards re-entering the entrance tunnel of Pike River mine tunnel is underway.

Work to clear equipment from the top of the ventilation shaft above the Solid Energy-owned mine's entrance tunnel, known as the drift, began Sunday, marking the start of a three-phase project to re-enter the mine drift.

It involves the first operational use of a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter, which is transporting the estimated 20 tonnes of equipment from the top of the shaft to a secure compound 7 kilometres away.

The helicopter can carry up to three tonnes a load.

The shaft will then be filled with a concrete-like plug, which will allow the methane-filled drift to be re-ventilated with air.

It could take two to three weeks before investigators will be able to enter the just over 2 kilometre mine drift.

A wall will be built at the end of the drift, with a permanent air lock so people could pass through if they needed to in future.

"We have no plans to re-enter the mine's workings proper. We consider the risks associated with doing so are too great," Solid Energy's project manager Mark Pizey said.

"We've undertaken to go as far as we can up the drift, stabilise the environment and put up a wall. What happens beyond there is yet to be determined."

"We're three years since the explosion . . . the type of information we'll be looking for in there is more related to the electrical equipment that was installed in there at the time, rather than bodies."

He hoped to have the entire project wrapped up within six months, depending on weather.

"We hope to find nothing, really. We're not looking for anything other any than forensic evidence that may support the department of labour or police with their inquiries," Pizey said.

"The people who will enter the mine will be ones required to for investigation purposes only."

The project has been nine months in the planning. "It's extremely satisfying to see this underway at last."

What was done in the mine main was yet to be determined, he said.

Royal New Zealand Air Force acting commanding officer of the helicopter transition unit Anna Shaw said the complex task had gone without a hitch so far.

The Defence Force team consisted of 21 air force personnel, as well as 11 army personnel based above the shaft to rig the equipment. It is the first operational deployment of the NH90 and the project was "invaluable" training.

The Air Force team hoped to remove all the debris - about 20 tonnes worth - from above the shaft by Thursday, but would "stay here until we get the job done".She said the Defence Force was proud to be involved.

The aircraft is usually based at Ohakea base, in the Manawatu. The cost was covered by the Defence Force's annual budget.

'All we want is for somebody to have a go'

At least one attempt. That's all the families of the 29 miners entombed in the Pike River Mine ever wanted to try to recover the bodies of their loved ones.

Nearly three years since the explosion on November 19, 2010, work began on the first stage of re-entering the West Coast mine's tunnel on Saturday.

Solid Energy spokesman Bryn Somerville said the preparatory work on re-entering the tunnel was "making good progress".

Yesterday, a New Zealand Defence Force helicopter began lifting material from the top of the ventilation shaft.

The first-stage of the project was expected to be complete midweek, weather permitting, Somerville said.

The plan to re-enter the tunnel was approved by Solid Energy and the Government, which pledged $10 million towards recovering the workers' bodies.

While most of the bodies are believed to be in the mine's main workings, it is thought some of the men could have been inside the mine's main entry tunnel, known as the drift, when the explosion occurred.

The project, which could take up to six months to complete, will seal off the drift and pump in nitrogen to force out any methane gas, allowing experts to walk down a 2.3km shaft to search the area.

Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael in the explosion, said he was "confident" bodies would be found in the drift.

"What we want is to get down there to have a look and reappraise where we go to next."

Carol Rose, mother of miner Stuart ‘Stu' Mudge, said it was the "most excellent thing" that work was beginning and that was all she, her husband Steve, and the other families had ever wanted.

"All we want is for somebody to have a go."

"If one family can get one man home, and that's all that ever happens, all the other families will be over the moon for that one family."

Neville Rockhouse, father of Ben Rockhouse, said he was really "buoyed" that it was starting to take shape after three years. "We're finally getting at least one attempt to get the boys home."

Dean Dunbar, the father of the youngest miner Joseph Ray Dunbar, who was 17 at the time, said he did not have much hope that he would get his son back.

"Every hard working miner deserves to come home.

Monday 21 October 2013


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