Police halt Pike River recovery effort

Last updated 18:25 13/01/2011
Daniel Tobin

Police Commissioner Howard Broad announces that the police are ceasing operations at Pike River. By Daniel Tobin

Joseph Ray Dunbar
JOSEPH RAY DUNBAR: 17, Greymouth. The youngest of the miners. The day of the explosion was his first day working underground.
family
KIRK HARGREAVES
RECOVERY EFFORT ABANDONED: Trevor and Lynne Sims after attending a meeting with an update on recovery of bodies from the Pike River mine. They lost their son Blair.
BOUND BY TRAGEDY: Family of the lost Pike River miners offer each other support after being told police were halting their operation to recover the miners' remains.
KIRK HARGREAVES/The Press
BOUND BY TRAGEDY: Family of the lost Pike River miners offer each other support after being told police were halting their operation to recover the miners' remains.

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Police have announced they are stopping the effort to recover the remains of 29 miners killed in the Pike River coal mine tragedy in November last year.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad this evening briefed families about the latest development at the Pike River mine where rescue staff have been battling  to stabilise dangerous gases and temperatures since the disaster.

» Click here to see interactive timeline

Broad told a media conference that he had little confidence that the bodies of the miners would ever be recovered.

While it was technically possible, it was impractical and too unsafe, Broad said.

"Frankly, my confidence in terms of a recovery operation to bring the men out is quite low," he said.

"The assessment is that the likelihood of getting into the mine safely is unrealistic."

Experts from Australia and New Zealand agreed that any recovery effort was unrealistic, the commissioner said.

"On this advice we do not hold out hope the men will be recovered.''

"It is time to focus on the living and memorialise those men who have died.''

Asked if the mine would now be sealed, Broad said: "I hesitate to use the word 'sealing'''

Police were disappointed, he said.

Broad said responsibility for securing the mine had been handed to the receivers for Pike River Mine.

It was up to them to decide whether or not the mine was "commercially viable''.

Broad said families of the miners had mixed emotions about the news.

"I think they were grateful for having been briefed on this. They have asked for additional briefings."

Family spokesman Bernie Monk has just told The Press he supported the police decision.

Recently, efforts at the mine have focused on plugging cracks around the mine's  mine shaft and ventilation shaft with expanding foam to allow water and nitrogen pumped into the mine since the disaster to produce conditions allowing rescuers to re-enter the mine.

Families of the miners and contractors who died in the disaster were told about the latest development about 5pm. 

'ONE HEARTACHE AFTER ANOTHER'

Since the first explosion at the Pike River mine on November 19, 2010 the West Coast community has faced one heartache after another.

Originally the 29 faimilies had hoped the trapped miners' bodies would be returned home before Christmas, but continuous fluctuating gas levels at the mine made the recovery impossible.

Four days before Christmas the rising gas levels inside the mine forced a temporary evacuation of staff at the site and the GAG (Gorniczy Agregat Gasniczy) machine, which was pumping water vapour into the mine, was shut down for repairs.

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The hope to have loved ones returned to the Pike River families was shattered again on December 22 when police said it would be more than three months before the mine would be safe to enter.

On Christmas day the 29 families joined together at the coalmine site for a brief remembrance service to get as close to their trapped loved ones as possible.

The West Coast community was faced with more bad news on New year's Day when it was announced that it would take more than a year for a Royal Commission into the Pike River disaster.

On Tuesday, the GAG machine was switched off once again and the hillside had to be evacuated because of unsafe gas levels inside the mine.

Earlier this week police said preparations were being made to drill more boreholes into the main coalface area of the mine to monitor gas and temperature levels.

- The Press

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