Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

PM denies reneging on mine

Bernie Monk, spokesman for the Pike River families, wants recovery work to continue. Photo / Greymouth Star
Bernie Monk, spokesman for the Pike River families, wants recovery work to continue. Photo / Greymouth Star

Prime Minister John Key has rejected claims he has backed away from his commitment to do whatever was possible to recover the bodies of the Pike Rover miners, saying all the evidence showed the recovery plan had failed and it was not possible to enter the mine.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad ended all hope of a recovery by announcing the police would halt their efforts and put the mine into the hands of the receivers.

The decision to abandon the recovery disappointed the families of the miners, who just the day before were told the machine pumping inert gas into the mine was making some progress after 35 days.

However, yesterday Mr Key said the advice of at least three experts was that a recovery was not possible.

Further, the gas machine's engines were burnt out after 35 days of almost constant use and the Queensland Government had asked for its return.

When the GAG machine was first brought to New Zealand, it was hoped it would take only hours to work in the mine.

"So we don't have options there. It's not working. That has actually failed and the mine rescue teams from Australia and New Zealand have refused to go into the mine. "The plan has failed, very unfortunately."

Labour leader Phil Goff has questioned the reasons Mr Key gave, saying rescuers and police had told families only the day before that the machine was making some progress on neutralising the volatile gases and high temperatures in the mine.

"We all knew it would take some time so why was it suddenly stopped now?

"There haven't been answers to such questions."

EPMU national secretary Andrew Little also questioned the reasons for abandoning the recovery efforts.

"The Government made promises they would do whatever it took. I think they're now backing out of that commitment and I think it's a question of money."

Mr Key was adamant the Government had done all it possibly could.

"It's got nothing to do with money. If it was about money, we would apply more resources.

"The plan has failed. There was always a risk the plan wouldn't work, there was no guarantee."

Mr Key said the mine would probably be sealed but it was up to the receivers if it would be sealed permanently.

West Coast police commander Inspector John Canning said police expected to be at the mine site for at least another couple of months flooding it with inert gases and plugging up cracks to try to stabilise it.

"The alternative is to put a big fence around it and walk away ... and all you'll have is continuing explosions."

Police had been careful to avoid saying they would seal the mine because that suggested shutting it up forever and if all ignition sources were removed it would be possible to re-enter the mine, Mr Canning said.

Pike River Coal receivers have until Monday to present police with their plan.

Yesterday John Fisk of PricewaterhouseCoopers said one option was to temporarily seal the mine while other longer-term options were evaluated.

The worst-case scenario was to simply fence it off and return the land to the Government.

However, the receivers were still considering the option of eventually re-opening the mine.

The suggestion that rescuers should have entered the mine immediately after the explosion because that was the safest time was "bollocks", Mr Canning said.

"We were never short of brave men, but they're not fools either. They're not just going to walk in and die."

In hindsight, he could think of nothing police should have done differently.

- NZ Herald

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