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Current as of 29/12/14 07:40PM NZST

Mayor slams Pike River authorities

By Paul Harper

The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers are trapped inside after an explosion in November 2010.  Photo / Simon Baker
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers are trapped inside after an explosion in November 2010. Photo / Simon Baker

The mayor of the Grey District today slammed authorities involved in the Pike River mine disaster.

Tony Kokshoorn said there had been no communication from the authorities from "day one" and it was well past time that the mine was entered and the bodies recovered.

Mr Kokshoorn made the comments after it was revealed the body of one of the 29 men who perished in the mine may have been identified in footage taken down a borehole in February.

He said the news was "extremely sad".

"It is the type of news which heightens the anxiety levels of all the people down here, particularly the families."

Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls said new camera technology was being imported from the United States to confirm the discovery.

"Initially it was unclear as to the nature of an object in the mine.

"To be sure, police requested that Dr Martin Sage, a senior forensic pathologist, view the video images and make an expert opinion on one of eight images. Dr Sage indicated last week that in his view the shape is suspiciously that of a body.

"It is important to note that the images we currently have are not that clear. More refinement and interpretation of what currently appears to be a body is needed."

Police Minister Judith Collins said the issue would be looked at by the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

It was also revealed to families that an equipment box containing a fire extinguisher had been opened in the mine, which reinforced Mr Kokshoorn's belief a rescue team should have accessed the mine straight after the initial November 14 blast, when he says gas levels would have been lower.

Mr Kokshoorn is adamant rescuers should have entered in the hours following the first blast.

"Every mining disaster since 1978, and there have been eight, they have always gone in immediately, and apart from two bodies in the Strongman mine, they have always brought out all the men," he said.

He said New Zealand had become "wrapped up in health and safety" and "political correctness", which stopped rescuers entering the mine.

"Instinct would have got those men out."

PricewaterhouseCoopers receiver John Fisk today said its approach would not change despite the possible discovery of a body.

But Mr Kokshoorn said it was time to "get in or get out".

"For over two to three months the mine has been inert," he said.

"After more than five months they have not even entered 10m into the mine. I've been telling the receivers for the last few weeks to get in or get out.

"One way or another they have to make a call. Someone has to make a call for the sake of giving the families some closure.

"At the end of the day are they going to keep sitting on the side of the hole looking in?"

Mr Kokshoorn said Solid Energy, which was interested in taking over the mine and committed to recovering the men's remains, should be involved in discussions.

"If people like Solid Energy, who have huge equipment and resources, are prepared to get in, let's get them around the table, and let's work to get the men out."

Despite being the mayor of the district, Mr Kokshoorn said receivers had called him only once.

"No one is telling anyone anything in this," he said. "Everyone is saving their own butts. This has been happening since day one."

Mr Kokshoorn said he kept in regular contact with the victims' families.

"I get grieving families coming to me all the time. I've had two families see me in the last few days," he said.

"The anxiety levels haven't gone down - they have gone up."

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