Pike River mine disaster inquest announced

Last updated 11:10 22/12/2010

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Pike River mine disaster

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The Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, says a Coronial Inquest into the deaths of 29 men at the Pike River Coal mine will be held early next year.

It will be held at the Greymouth District Court on Wakefield Street, starting at 11.00am on Thursday 27 January, with the next day also available if required.

This stage of the Inquest is likely to be limited to confirming identity and as far as possible, establishing likely time frames and cause of death.

"Wider issues concerning cause and possible prevention are likely to be covered by the Royal Commission of Inquiry, so to avoid any prejudice and allow all other investigations to be completed, the Inquest is likely to be adjourned indefinitely after the January date," Judge MacLean says.

Judge McLean expects to hear the best evidence currently available from Police and other experts during the Inquest.

"I want to do what I can so that the families have the information they need to help them cope with the difficult circumstances surrounding this tragedy.

"This process should mean that it is possible for me to register the deaths with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and obtain Death Certificates," Judge MacLean says.

Mine re-entry plan

Pike River Coal receivers, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, will today provide police with a re-entry plan to recover the bodies of the 29 men who lost their lives in the mine.

Workers are trying to ensure it is safe enough to enter the mine, following a number of explosions since November 19, but two machines brought in to neutralise the mine atmosphere and extinguish remnants of fire have so far been unsuccessful.

A GAG (Gorniczy Agregat Gasniczy) machine has been pumping water vapour into the mine for about three weeks, while a nitrogen generator has been brought in from Australia to cool the mine.

Receiver John Fisk said the plan, which was prepared in consultation with a range of experts, would only be achieved if each step was successful.

The receivers were not in charge of the recovery operation and it was ultimately the police's decision as to whether to proceed with the re-entry plan, he said.

"The most important thing that needs to happen immediately is for the atmosphere in the mine to be safe so that people can enter it and until that's achieved no further steps can be taken,'' he told Radio New Zealand.

Closing the mine "could be the ultimate outcome'' if the plan failed.

"All we can do is really try and facilitate a process and we're putting every effort we can into doing that,'' he said.

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Yesterday, torrential rain and high winds hampered work at the mine and high-pressure concrete spraying at the portal was cancelled.

Superintendent Gary Knowles yesterday said the weather was also preventing gas sampling from the mine. He said sealing the mine permanently could be likely if other options failed.

"We've been looking at every possible option and sealing the mine has always been among those options,'' Mr Knowles said. '

While the two machines had failed to neutralise the mine atmosphere so far, they were "performing'' and had reduced the mine fire.

The mine recovery operation was complicated by having to pump the nitrogen and water vapour uphill, heat, and fissures in the mine area. He said nobody would be sent into the mine until the environment was neutralised.

"You've got a very unstable environment, it's very volatile, lots of heat and there's huge risk,'' he said.

Mr Knowles said a site inspection by Canterbury University professor David Bell confirmed efforts to neutralise gas in the mine could take months.

- NZPA

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