Solid Energy has ruled out ever re-entering the Pike River coal mine, deeming it too dangerous.
The decision comes close to four years after the initial tragedy, which cost the lives of 29 miners as the site.
The journey from the initial Pike River coal mine explosions in late 2010 to now has been a traumatic one for the families of the 29 men who lost their lives in the incident.
The decision to enter the mine to recover the bodies of the men has been repeatedly delayed due to ongoing concerns about toxic gases inside and the stability of the mine’s tunnels.
Plans for re-entry of the mine were first put on the table by Pike’s new owners Solid Energy nearly a year ago, with New Zealand Government approvals swiftly following.
The decision on re-entering the mine to recover the bodies was supposed to made in August, however the decision by the board of the new owners of the operations – Solid Energy – was delayed until the next board meeting in late October.
Solid Energy then again delayed the decisionon whether to continue to attempt a re-entry at the site, stating that “the board decision has been deferred to ensure the company has sufficient time to consider the feedback from experts advising the Pike River families’ group”.
Now a decision has been made to not re-enter the mine.
New Zealand prime minister John Key attended a meeting with Solid Energy and the families of the victims of the coal mine explosion, where the announcement was made, according to Stuff.co.nz.
Families were informed that current owner Solid Energy, who acquired the mine in 2012, will not attempt to enter the mine as risk to life is too high.
As part of its acquisition of the mine Solid was required to prepare a recovery plan, however it had the option, under section 5.5 of the Pike River Body Recovery Deed, that if “recovery cannot be achieved safely, is not technically feasible and/or is not financially credible” it will not have to attempt a recovery, even after the NZ Government agreed to supply NZD$ 7.2 million to support re-entry plans.
According to Solid Energy chair Pip Dunphy “despite our best endeavours we have been unable to reach a level of confidence that any re-entry plan can adequately protect the lives of those who would undertake the work”.
She went on to state that “any further loss of life in this mine is unacceptable and any possibility of other families having to go through what the Pike families have suffered is not something our board can support."
Dunphy outlined the risk of further deterioration of the mine which puts it at risk of collapse, and the ongoing gas and ventilation issues which led to the original explosion in 2010, and all exacerbate the danger of a site which is already located far from safety support, Stuff reported.
"Ultimately, we need to be able to rescue people if they became trapped. That would require us to be able to communicate to determine where along the 2.3km drift the entrapment occurred and be able to sustain life whilst drilling a rescue shaft."
Families of the fallen men have taken the news harshly, with some reportedly leaving the meeting in tears.
They have released a statement saying they disagree with the decision, and labelled the plan to nix re-entry as devastating.