Pike entry possible say mine experts

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 10:54 11/11/2012

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It is possible to re-enter the Pike River coalmine to retrieve the bodies of 29 men killed in the November 2010 blast, three international mining experts say.

Mining consultant Bob Stevenson and mining engineer David Creedy, both of England, and New Zealand mine-safety expert Dave Feickert spent this week in Greymouth at the request of the victims' families to review the feasibility of a mine re-entry plan.

"It is our belief as a group that yes, we can in fact effect a re-entry into these workings and we can do it safely. It's not without problems, but we believe those problems are solvable," Mr Stevenson, a former principal mines inspector with 50 years' mining experience, said yesterday.

The first step involved entering the 2.3-kilometre tunnel in stages up to a rockfall near the far end. If that proved passable, a recovery team would enter the mine's main working area, where most, if not all, of the bodies remained.

Otherwise, a new tunnel would be bored around the rockfall to gain access to the bodies.

"We feel it's a positive path forward," said Mr Creedy, a methane gas specialist with 38 years' mining experience.

"We'd be even more happy if we knew it was actually going to happen."

Their plan needed support from Solid Energy, the mine's new owner, Mines Rescue Service, the Government and the public because it could end up being funded by their taxes.

"At some stage, someone has to put their hand in their pocket," Mr Creedy said.

"My view is this - if there were 29 US astronauts stuck on the Moon and you've got a 300,000-mile irrespirable atmosphere between us and them, we'd get them."

The group visited Pike River this week and walked up to a temporary seal about 170 metres along the underground mine's tunnel - an emotional experience.

When the seal was built in July last year, Mines Rescue Service workers stuck a note on it to the 29 men, saying it was the first step towards getting the bodies home.

"I found it extremely upsetting," Mr Stevenson said, admitting he wept when he read the letter.

"After we read that, I think that strengthened our determination that we've got this plan; let's get behind it and try to make it work," Mr Creedy said.

The group arrived in time for Monday's publication of the royal commission's report into the tragedy, which harshly criticised mine management, government agencies and New Zealand's health and safety laws.

Bernie Monk, spokesman for most of the families, was cautiously optimistic recovery would go ahead and planned to present the experts' plan to Solid Energy and Prime Minister John Key once completed. Fairfax NZ

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- Fairfax Media

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