Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Pike River body recovery: progress made

Flames flared up a shaft above the pit after the miners were trapped. The tragedy left family and friends shattered. Photo / NZPA
Flames flared up a shaft above the pit after the miners were trapped. The tragedy left family and friends shattered. Photo / NZPA

A crunch five-hour showdown with the Government has left Pike River mine families confident of recovering the bodies of the dead 29 workers.

The meeting of 21 global mining experts, including representatives of the Government's newly-formed High Hazards Unit, Solid Energy, Mines Rescue, and consultants hired by Pike families, sat in Christchurch today.

The risk of triggering explosions has meant the remains of the men have been inaccessible since blasts ripped through the mine on November 19, 2010.

Prime Minister John Key last year apologised to families for the deaths of the men, but maintained a body recovery was unlikely.

But today's meeting to discuss a plan to safely re-enter the West Coast mine has left families confident of finding a way forward.

"We've come a long way today. While it's probably going slower than the families want, we just want to do everything right," said Bernie Monk, spokesman for most of the families.

"We're all sort of on the same page ... there are just a few items that we have to cover yet, and I think we'll eventually get there. It's just a matter of ticking all the right boxes as we go along."

Having the mining expertise of Australia, the UK, and New Zealand all in one room for the first time was "very beneficial", Mr Monk said.

The parties have agreed to continue developing and accessing two potential methods of exploring the main entry tunnel, known as the drift.

Progress was being made, but there was more work to do, the Pike River drift exploration working group said in a statement.

The group believed both methods had the potential to satisfy the criteria that they must be safe as well as being technically and financially feasible.

Once a preferred option was agreed, and a plan firmed up, it would then be reviewed by the High Hazards Unit before being considered by ministers.

"The Government has indicated it is prepared to fund a safe, technically feasible and financially credible drift exploration project if one is developed," the statement said.

The working group says an update will be given once decisions have been made at the end of the process.

Mr Monk, whose son Michael died in the tragedy, agreed that safety had to be "top priority" when planning a re-entry to the mine.

Another sticking point between the parties today was that if anything went wrong in the first phase of drift reclamation, it could jeopardise any opportunity of going deeper down the mine's 2.3km tunnel where most of the men likely remain.

"If we could come up with a viable and safe plan, Mr Key said he would fund it," Mr Monk said.

"We must cover all bases before we jump into the fire, I reckon. While we didn't come to full agreement on a couple of issues today, we're confident we can sort through them and get the go ahead."

- APNZ

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