Pike panel to plot recovery prospects

A panel of mining experts will meet tomorrow in Christchurch to hammer out a plan to re-enter Pike River coalmine.

The group of about 18 people will include representatives from the Government's High Hazards Unit, Pike families, Solid Energy and Mines Rescue Trust.

Prime Minister John Key pushed for the meeting late last year after pleas for help from some families of the 29 men killed when the underground West Coast mine exploded in November 2010.

Key wrote to families a few days before last Christmas acknowledging the families' frustration that their experts disputed claims by the Government and Solid Energy experts that body recovery was impossible.

At the time, he confirmed the Government would fund an exploration of the mine's 2.3km tunnel, where some bodies might remain, if a safe, technically feasible and financially credible plan was developed that the High Hazards Unit backed.

He wanted experts from all sides to meet to gain a consensus so the families got "closure one way or another as soon as reasonably possible".

"I am concerned that unless all of the various experts are involved, there will simply be a continuation of the current divergent views and progress will continue to be slow."

Spokesman for most Pike River families, Bernie Monk, said he hoped tomorrow's meeting would result in an agreed plan to re-enter its tunnel down to a rockfall, believed to block entrance to the mine's main working area where most, if not all, of the men's bodies remained.

Efforts to re-enter the tunnel stalled in mid-2011 after a temporary seal was erected 170m along the tunnel and permanent steel doors were placed at its entrance.

"We are just concentrating on re-entering the drift. We are just continuing what we have already started," said Monk, who lost his son Michael, 23, in the explosion.

The meeting would start at 7am and was expected to take all morning with time scheduled on Wednesday if needed.

Two international mining experts supporting the families would attend via teleconference and a third would attend.

He said the families' experts and Solid Energy had developed separate plans to re-enter the tunnel.

Dangerous conditions inside the mine prevented any rescue attempts after the explosion but, since then, mines rescue had only reached 300m along the mine's 2.3km tunnel in June 2011 while they were building the temporary seal.

Monk earlier said if the expert panel ruled out body recovery, families would accept their consensus.

The Press