Bad weather has stopped work at the Pike River mine on the first day of the Government-funded re-entry plan.
A specialist Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopter is removing items near the ventilation shaft. The NH90 is the pride of the Air Force, barely straining to lift the three-tonne generator from the top of the mine's ventilator shaft.
At the controls is a friend of Michael Monk, one of the 29 men who died in the mine.
The mission meant even more for pilot Flight Lieutenant George McInnes, who went to boarding school and did his OE with Michael.
"[He's] pretty close to my heart. I was good friends with Michael and the Monk family. It's pretty special," says Flt Lt McInnes.
Michael's father, Bernie Monk, has campaigned almost three years for re-entry to happen, and it has been made more meaningful by having Flt Lt McInness in the 32-strong team.
"We only found out last night that George was here when his mother rang and it was very emotional for us," says Mr Monk.
The work is step one of seven. Its aim is to permanently plug the ventilation shaft using 700 cubic metres of concrete.
If all goes well it'll take six months before Mines Rescue can enter the 2.3km tunnel, but most of those killed were believed to be working further into the mine.
Solid Energy's Mark Pizey says the chance of recovering any bodies during the operation is slim.
"I think it's unlikely but we will obviously be keeping every eye open."
The Air Force arrived Saturday and with bad weather forecast started its clearance work yesterday - a day ahead of schedule.
"The challenge is the weather and the air crew are very experienced in working in terrain like this. The wind patterns are complex and they're getting good at reading it," says officer in charge, Squadron Leader Anna Shaw.
The Air Force is scheduled to stay until Thursday, though bad weather means they'll probably be stay longer.