Mine entrance tunnel may be explored
A project to re-enter Pike River mine's entrance tunnel may allow up to 800 metres of the drift to be explored for the first time since the November 2010 tragedy.
While experts say finding bodies is unlikely, families of the 29 dead men are not giving up hope.
Work to re-enter the West Coast mine's entrance tunnel, known the drift, started at the weekend involving a Defence Force team removing debris from the top of the mine's main ventilation shaft.
The shaft will be filled with a concrete-like plug and a wall built about 2.3 kilometres into the methane-filled drift before the tunnel is re-ventilated with air.
It may be two to three weeks before investigators will be able to enter the drift.
Bernie Monk, spokesman for some families, said he remained positive something would be found.
"They say they won't find any [bodies], but we don't know until we get down there."
Two men - Daniel Rockhouse and Russell Smith - managed to walk out from about 1.5 kilometres into the tunnel after the first explosion on November 19.
A robot sent in after the explosions reached only about the same distance, leaving about a further 800 metres to the rockfall still unexplored.
Monk said while families understood there could be no-one in the unexplored part of the tunnel, there could equally be "a drift full of men".
The families were hopeful for the latter, but recovering even one body would be amazing, he said.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed."
Solid Energy's project manager Mark Pizey said during a media briefing yesterday (subs: Monday) he believed it was unlikely bodies would be found in the drift.
The main purpose of this project was to retrieve evidence for police and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment investigators.
Monk said his next push after this project would be re-entry to the mine's main workings, where most of the men's bodies are believed to be.
He said if they found a body in the drift, it would strengthen the argument to get into the main part the mine.
Pizey said there were currently no plans to re-enter the mine's workings proper as the risks were too great.
The plan to re-enter the tunnel was approved by Solid Energy and the Government, which pledged $10 million towards recovering the workers' bodies.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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