A fully clothed body has been seen inside the Pike River Coal mine, indicating some of the 29 men killed in the mine may have survived the first blast.
In January, an inquiry into the tragedy found the size of the initial explosion to be so great that none of the men would have survived.
Families of the 29 men said they believed the receivers were putting a sale ahead of a recovery,
but the most high profile bidder for the mine, Solid Energy, says it will continue recovery efforts while also making the mine financially viable again.
The discovery of the fully-clothed body has added to the pleas from the families to continue a recovery effort and bring the bodies of their loved ones to the surface.
The mine has been too unpredictable and dangerous for rescue teams to enter, but video image taken inside the mine in February showed a fully-clothed person lying face down in the mine.
"Get them out"
Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn has echoed the calls of the families, and told New Zealand media the latest discovery proved it was time to find a way to recover the bodies.
Kokshoorn told The Press receivers of the mine need to make getting into the mine to recover the men’s bodies a priority, give the responsibility to another organisation who can.
"It is really bringing it home to us now that there are miners down there and family members want their loved ones out of that pit," he said.
"It’s been five months now and it’s time for the receivers to get down that hole – either they get in and recover those bodies or they need to get out."
Kokshoorn has supported the sale of the mine to Solid Energy.
"Put Solid Energy around the table, they have access to equipment and are capable of accessing the mine.
"It is not fair. There is evidence that there are bodies down there, so get down there and stop sitting up here looking down a hole."
He said he has “always suspected” the bodies of the miners were still lying in the mine.
"From the footage we have seen, the heat from the fire was not as great as what was anticipated.
"We knew two months ago there must be bodies down there, but nothing has been done.
"Just get on with the job and get those bodies out," he said.
Police evidence proves men may have survived
A forensic pathologist has confirmed the video looks like a fully clothed person, according to police.
Images taken from inside the mine also indicate a firefighting box had been opened and showed the men may have opened it after surviving the first explosion.
The families of the miners have been briefed on the latest information during their weekly meeting in Greymoth last night, Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls told stuff.co.nz.
"A series of videos were taken via borehole 47 in February.
"Initially it was unclear as to the nature of an object in the mine and it appeared after Electronic Crime Laboratory enhancement improbable that the image was that of a body," Nicholls said.
"To be sure police requested that Dr Martin Sage, a senior forensic pathologist, view the video images and make an expert opinion on one of eight images. Dr Sage indicated last week that in his view the shape is suspiciously that of a body.
"A review yesterday of a CAL scan (the scanning technology gives an impression of objects in the environment rather than a detailed image) of the same location has located an image consistent with that reported by Dr Sage.
"An important next step is to arrange with a suitable expert in the technology to further enhance the CAL scan images so that better information is available to police," Nicholls said.
A different kind of camera, imported from the United States is being considered by police.
The camera would be lowered into borehole 47 to try to produce better images, Nicholls said.
"It is important to note that the images we currently have are not that clear. More refinement and interpretation of what currently appears to be a body is needed."
"Preliminary indications are that there are three boxes and one of these, thought to contain fire fighting equipment, appears to be open. It appears that the other two boxes, which are thought to contain self-rescuers, are closed."
He said more analysis is being sought.
The importance of a recovery
The recovery of the bodies has been the primary concern for residents and families in the small community, and following the first blast, Australian Mining spoke to Beverly Raphael, from the University of Western Sydney – School of Medicine, who heads a specialist research unit dealing with mental health issues during and following disasters such as this.
She told Australian Mining the prolonged tragedy in the Pike River Coal mine disaster is the most difficult for the families to deal with, as they rebuild new hope only to have it continuously thwarted.
She says that the unhappiness and anger many family members felt is normal and expected when dealing with their anguish.
"Anger is a part of grief, particularly with sudden and unexpected death. They are asking why it was their loved one who had to die."
During the touchy days after the initial explosion, many spoke to media outlets, saying they could not understand why more was not being done or why rescue teams had not yet entered the mine.
Having worked on some of the most tragic accidents in the Southern Hemisphere in her time, Fearne knows how difficult it is for families who never get to say a proper goodbye.
“It would be very hard; in their hearts they’ll keep wondering,” she said.
“We did research after the Granville disaster about people seeing the body, and it’s how they recognise death and loss, it’s important.”
Image: Science Media Centre