Technical experts held a meeting on the West Coast early this week for a planning session for the eventual planned re-entry of the damaged Pike River coal mine in which the bodies of 29 miners were entombed.
Radio New Zealand said the Pike River Recovery Agency was simultaneously calling for a specialist contractor who can undertake the re-entry and recover the mine's drift.
The bodies of the 29 men have been trapped in the mine since a major methane explosion in 2010 and there have been other major combustions since.
The agency said those meeting in Rapahoe, north of Greymouth, included specialists in geotechnical engineering, mine ventilation and underground coal fires. There were also local experts, and specialists from the United Kingdom and Australia present.
Agency chief operating officer Dinghy Pattinson said the mood was positive.
He said there was to be a four-day workshop to help develop plans to re-enter the drift or reinstate the mine seal, a concrete wall 170 metres into the drift. Radio NZ said the drift is a 2.3 kilometre passage between the portal and the mine workings.
The workings, which contained about 5.5 km of tunnels, were blocked by a large rockfall at the end of the drift. A new seal was built just 30 metres from the entrance in November 2016, but the reinstatement of the original 170m seal would allow access much further into the drift, Pattinson said.
“It just gives you a different start point. You're not going right back to the portal at any stage. You're 170m in, so it's one of the first milestones.” Pattinson said.
Radio NZ said the agency was starting its search for contractors to assist with planning and do the work, once approved.
"We are looking for a supplier who can demonstrate their track record in providing similar services, an ability to source specialist coal mining equipment and appropriately trained and qualified personnel to operate the equipment and who has robust health and safety culture and practices,” Pattinson added.