The family of Murray Taylor, the digger driver buried under falling rocks at a Canterbury quarry, have paid tribute to him as a much-loved husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend.
Police have confirmed they are looking to recover the body of the 56-year-old from Hurunui.
His family said in a statement today that Mr Taylor "left for work as usual yesterday to do a job he thoroughly enjoyed".
"Murray is a much loved husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. We wait in anticipation and ask that the media respect our family's right to privacy at this time."
Inspector Corrie Parnell from Canterbury Police said a geotechnical survey of the area was completed this morning and 750 metric tonnes of limestone and debris removed from the area where the excavator was engulfed.
"Currently we are not considering the use of remote controlled equipment or drones, however we have brought in heavy duty equipment such as excavators, bulldozers and winching equipment. This will be a staged and controlled recovery operation and we are making good progress in locating the driver."
"We are getting to the stage where we have reached the top of the excavator cab area. Work is continuing to locate the driver," explained Mr Parnell.
WorkSafe NZ issued a prohibition notice stopping all quarrying work on the site.
A 25-strong team led by police with specialist support from Alpine Cliff Rescue, WorkSafe NZ and Mines Engineering will continue the operation today, after the incident about 10.40am yesterday at the Heathstock Haulage quarry on Limeworks Rd.
A cliff-face collapsed, with huge rocks, some weighing as much as 15 tonnes, landing on Mr Taylor's 65-tonne digger.
Mr Taylor, a life-long North Canterbury man is from nearby Balcairn.
A Waikari local, who didn't wish to be named, said Mr Taylor was a "decent, hard-working bloke".
"He's going to be very well missed in the community," she said.
"A very respected man, and was always helping others wherever he could."
When the local service station burned to the ground in 1996, Mr Taylor brought a digger to help with the recovery.
"That was the sort of guy he was."
Mr Taylor was company director of Heathstock Haulage which operated out of the Limeworks Rd quarry. He also operated the lime operation from the quarry which he leased from Hurunui District Council.
Quarries need tighter regulations
Quarries can be just as dangerous to work in as mines and tighter safety regulations are needed on sites, says trade union president Helen Kelly.
Safety changes were made in 2013 in the mining industry following the 2010 Pike River tragedy when 29 men lost their lives, but quarries were deliberately left out of the changes, Ms Kelly told Paul Henry this morning.
Though quarries were originally included in the bill, "they were excluded when the law was passed and those laws would have allowed workers on the site to have day-to-day responsibilities," Ms Kelly said.
"And the Prime Minister admits it was because of lobbying."
WorkSafe officials could not be on site every day, but workers were and if an elected representative was trained to enforce safety laws it would empower workers, Ms Kelly said.
"It's not too hard to allow workers to participate."
Why not empower them ... what is the worst that could happen?"
New Zealand quarries had an accident rate six times higher than the United Kingdom, Ms Kelly said.
There had been two deaths this year already in quarry accidents and Ms Kelly said she hoped the Canterbury accident would not make a third.
Third serious quarry incident this year
Earlier this morning Radio New Zealand reported that a security guard had been stationed at the quarry since 6pm yesterday, and the local Waikari Police had arrived at the scene early this morning.
Mr Taylor was operating a 65-tonne machine when an overhanging cliff face gave way at the Heathstock Haulage quarry in north Canterbury.
Aggregate and Quarry Association chief executive Roger Parton said the amount of rock that came down was not a good sign Mr Taylor would be found alive.
"I would hope and pray that he is ... Those are big machines, they are well made and they are tough but those were also very big rocks ...
The accident is the third serious quarry incident in New Zealand this year - 43-year-old Scott Baldwin was killed in a Timaru quarry accident in March and 24-year-old Tane Hill-Ormsby was crushed by a rock-cutter in Tauranga in April.
Mr Parton said all three accidents happened in quarries that were not members of his association.
The latest incident has prompted calls for more stringent health and safety measures for quarries - but changes should not significantly alter quarry operations if they are up to date with current regulations, Mr Parton said.
It was important rescuers kept themselves safe while trying to extract the digger, he said.
Chris Baker, the chief executive of Straterra, which lobbies for high health and safety standards in mining and quarrying, said the industry was crossing its fingers the driver was still alive.
Mechanic John Stanley, who rents a workshop on the site, said he saw about 1000 tonnes of lime rock bury the digger.
- Additional reporting: Scott Yeoman