By Jeff Hampton
International experts have entered the Pike River mine to explore plans for a possible recovery.
They were brought in by some of the 29 victims’ families, frustrated that the Government appears to have abandoned any thoughts of getting the bodies out. Families' spokesman Bernie Monk took his video camera on the visit to the mine.
The mine’s owner Solid Energy gave full co-operation to Mr Monk, other family representatives, and their three international mine safety experts.
They were there to investigate getting into the mine's workings, more than 2km underground.
“The Government's always said ‘bring us a plan’, so we're going to bring them a plan,” says Mr Monk.
The experts went 170m into the tunnel as part of a week-long investigation into whether body recovery is viable. After a fly-over, studying mine data from Solid Energy and meetings with geologists and Mines Rescue, they believe recovery is possible.
Methane expert David Creedy says they have a comprehensive plan.
“We have put together a programme that creates a robust means of regaining entry and deals adequately with all the perceived risks,” he says.
That sounds good in theory but there are a number of obstacles. British mines inspector Bob Stevenson says their team has to rely on the mine’s owners.
“Our plan can't even start until Solid Energy recovers the main access drift,” he says.
That would involve a staggered entry - gradually putting in a series of sealed doors, every 250m as far as 2km underground.
From there the experts say it's their job to get around a big rockfall to the workings, where bodies are believed to lie. That may involve putting in a new tunnel to the side.
And as Mr Monk admits, all of this would be costly.
“The biggest obstacle [is] who's going to pay for it, money's the issue here.”
Any plan would also need approval from safety authorities and millions of dollars from cash-strapped Solid Energy, which is currently cutting its workforce by a quarter. Solid Energy has also never said it would recover the drift, and with a $40 million loss in its latest annual return, that's not likely to happen soon.