A team of Manawatu-based Defence Force personnel helping to clear debris from Pike River Mine includes at least one member with a personal connection to the job.
Flight Lieutenant George McInnes, 27, who is part of a team flying equipment from the top of the mine's ventilation shaft to allow re-entry into the mine entrance, was close friends with Michael Monk, one of the 29 men who perished in the underground West Coast mine on November 19, 2010.
The pair became friends at St Bede's College, Christchurch, and later travelled and worked together.
Michael's parents Bernie and Kath Monk went to the mine yesterday to see the project and personally thank Flight Lieutenant McInnes.
He is one of 21 personnel from Ohakea Air Force Base, who along with 11 from Linton Military Camp are in Greymouth helping to clear debris from around the top of the mine ventilation shaft with the help of an NH90 helicopter.
Pilot and acting commanding officer of the Helicopter Training Unit Squadron Leader Anna Shaw said the team travelled to the West Coast on Saturday and had since carried about 20 tonnes of debris from the site in underslung loads.
The helicopter is removing structures including fan ducting and generator sets to clear the area for stage one of a project to re-enter and explore the main tunnel of the mine, filling the remaining 50 to 60 metres of the shaft to ensure full control of the mine atmosphere.
The weather grounded the helicopter yesterday, with about three more loads or four more hours of flying to be done, she said.
She expected the total to be closer to 30 tonnes when they finished the job, either today or tomorrow, depending on conditions.
It was the first time the NH90 had been used operationally for this kind of work, she said.
The helicopter had performed very well, sometimes carting loads of up to three tonnes, and it was a "fantastic" training opportunity for pilots, she said.
The biggest challenge to the aircrew was the weather, although they had been lucky up until yesterday afternoon.
"We were really pleased we were asked by Solid Energy to help and support them with the operation they're leading down here - everyone's really, really happy to give back."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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