The day has finally come for work to start on re-entering the Pike River mine, nearly three years after 29 men died during a series of explosions there.
The Defence Force started work today on removing material from the top of the West Coast mine in preparation for an attempt to re-enter the mine.
Solid Energy spokesman Bryn Somerville said the operation was very weather-dependent, and other than a light breeze, it had been favourable today.
A New Zealand Defence Force helicopter had been used to hoist material from the top of the mine's ventilation shaft.
Mr Somerville was not aware how much material had been removed so far.
"I spoke to my project manager who's working with them and all he was able to tell me was that it was going well,'' he said.
A spokesman for some of the families of the workers, Bernie Monk, said: "the day has finally come and we're quite excited''.
"But it's the start of something that should have happened about two and a half years ago.''
Mr Monk said the families knew the operation could take up to six months to recover the sons, husbands, partners and fathers trapped underground.
They had been pushing for this work to start for nearly three years, he said.
"In some ways it's exciting, in some ways I'm a bit angry it's taken this long to get something done.''
If experts were able to gain entry into the shafts, questions could also be answered as to why the explosions occurred, he said.
"Not only for our own knowledge, but for worldwide knowledge.''
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the work was a "step forward'' and the families were anticipating getting closer to the bodies that lay in the mines.
He hoped to be kept informed on progress made into the mine.
"I'll make a point of finding out where they're at as they go - it's just a matter of getting some dialogue going.''
Early last month Prime Minister John Key pledged $10 million of Government support for a re-entry plan if it was safe, technically feasible and financially credible.
The staged re-entry plan was designed to seal off the ventilation shaft in the mine's main entry tunnel, known as the drift.
The mine will be pumped full of nitrogen to force out any methane gas and allow experts to walk down a 2.3km shaft to a rockfall.
While most of the bodies were believed to be inside the mine's main workings, the families believed some men may have been inside the drift when blasts ripped through the mine on November 19, 2010.