Pike re-entry could allow access to electrical systems

By Laura Mills of the Greymouth Star

The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine. Photo / Simon Baker
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine. Photo / Simon Baker

Re-entering the main Pike River Mine tunnel will give experts access to electrical equipment and possible clues to the cause of the explosion, a former chief mines inspector said.

The Government yesterday announced a $7.2 million plan to enter the main tunnel and proceed as far as a rockfall that blocks access to the mine workings, where the 29 victims lie. Work on the detailed plan should start next month, and Mines Rescue expects to start heading up the drift about March.

Former chief mines inspector Harry Bell said he believed there was valuable knowledge to be gained.

He said it would allow people to inspect pit bottom, where there was a lot of machinery and electrical equipment.

Electrical failure is the leading suspect in the disaster nearly three years ago, as the mine blew up immediately after the water pumps were turned back on.

Mining expert Dave Feickert, of Whanganui, said today the re-entry should help them look at "some parts which are quite important''. It would also let them examine an 800m blackspot, not seen since the day of the blast.

It would give them the chance to examine what had happened to electrical systems in the drift (main tunnel), he said.

However, both Mr Feickert and Mr Bell agreed getting past the rockfall, and the new plug to be installed in front of that, to the main workings would be a big job.

"There is a lot of risk and a lot of hard work,'' Mr Bell said.

"They would have to drive through stone right around (the rockfall). It would be a very, very big job and very risky.''

Mr Feickert said the new re-entry plan left open the possibility of going further into the mine, but he noted that the mine's new owner, Solid Energy, had said it did not support that.

Spokesman for some of the Pike River families, Bernie Monk, today he was "over the moon'' with the Government commitment.

However, he asked people not to speculate about the body recovery being impossible, and to keep an open mind.

Energy Minister Simon Bridges said yesterday there was little chance of recovering the bodies of the miners.

"We won't know until we're down there,'' Mr Monk said today.

He said the $7.2m allocated would have needed to be spent anyway for the mine to be reopened, and mined.

But Geraldine couple Rod and Christine Holling, who lost their son Richard in the Pike River tragedy, told the Timaru Herald today they did not know what would be achieved by the attempted retrieval and would prefer to leave the remains of their son in the mine.

Mrs Holling declined to comment when contacted by the Greymouth Star this morning.

The couple told the paper the 41-year-old always wanted his ashes scattered over the Paparoa Range, and although he was under them, not on top, ``he is still surrounded by the beauty of the West Coast he loved''.

However, they said they would never stand in the way of other families, who needed to find closure in a different way.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Herald said in an editorial today about the re-entry plan: "Most likely they will confirm what a Royal Commission has already concluded, and let the dead rest in peace. That should be closure''.

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