A re-entry of the damaged Pike River coal mine could happen by December, now that family representatives have signed off on the Government's three options for entering the mine.
The Government has committed to return the remains of the 29 men to their families, and the Otago Daily News reported that a concept plan was now underway to allow that to happen.
Pike River Minister Andrew Little met the families in Greymouth on Saturday.
“This follows a fair amount of potential work that has been done to date, and the experts now have three options for re-entry and recovery of the drift.
“Before I signed off on exploring those options further, I just wanted the families to know where we were at, and to have confidence in it. They seemed to, so I'll now sign off on that.”
Little said a realistic target for re-entry was the end of the year.
“We think the end of December, and that's what we're working towards.”
He said the three options were quite similar, but had differences in how they organised a second exit point, and the order in which parts of the plan happened.
Planning would now move into more detailed work, sourcing equipment, and working out a detailed cost expectation. Both the Government and families knew the recovery would be “complex.”
Their experts said it was possible, but the risks had to be acknowledged and mitigated.
“It's a unique mine anyway, you've got this very long tunnel or drift, and it goes uphill,” Little said. "It is a coal mine, so it has all the usual hazards that go with methane and coal gas. And, of course, it's a mine that has already blown up.
“That's why we've got the expertise we have, and one of the operating principles we agreed to with the families, is safety first. They are very clear, they don't want another person injured or harmed in the re-entry exercise.”
Last month police announced a new investigation into the Pike River Mine explosion was to be opened, five years after they closed their original one. As NZResources said on several occasions it was unfortunate that the police had taken total charge of the mine disaster immediately after the explosion, despite several mine rescue groups offering their expertise.
At that time the mines inspectorate had been emasculated and had only one permanent mines inspector in the country with another then going into retirement.
Before the general election New Zealand First leader and now acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters, in pushing for the process for a mine re-entry rather than its closure, volunteered to be the first to re-enter the mine.
He reaffirmed to Radio New Zealand last month that he was still keen to be the first to re-enter the mine.
When Solid Energy handed Pike River (which it had purchased following the collapse of Pike River Coal Ltd) back to the then Key Government it was moving to permanently sealing the mine on the basis that its technical people saw a serious risk to would-be rescuers attempting to recover bodies in the deeps of the mine.
The Pike River Agency has undertaken serious think-tank work on the challenge.
Sources: odt.co.nz; radionz.co.nz & nzresources.com