Pike River recovery delayed again

Plans for recovery teams to enter the Pike River Coal mine have again been delayed by unsafe gas levels.

The families of the 29 miners killed in the November 19 explosions say they were unsurprised to hear the news, and it is just the latest in a series of let downs from the receivers.

Spokesman for the families, Bernie Monk told local media they would be more likely to believe information on gas levels from the Mines Rescue team than the receivers.

He says the receivers have continually put off sealing the mine, and it should have been done months ago.

The latest set back in entering the mine adds to the need for the families to have their own experts, he said.

Receiver John Fisk stressed that it is only a temporary setback and said gas levels will be reviewed again next week.

If they are at a safe level, work will commence the following week.

"Ensuring everyone’s safety is our paramount concern.

"We’re committed to stabilising the mine and will continue to monitor gas levels and reassess the situation in the middle of next week."

Fisk acknowledged the delay would be frustrating for all the parties involved

Last week, the date was set for a recovery operation to begin, following an announcement from Grey district Mayor Tony Kokshoorn that toxic gas levels inside the mine were in the safe zone.

The effort was set down for today, but since then, the levels have increased, making it too unsafe to start work.

"They have maintained for quite a while now, the 3 per cent oxygen levels, the mine has been inert but it’s just one of those setbacks you would expect because there is heating around the caving area, 2.3km into the mine.

"With heating you get carbon monoxide if you get a little bit of oxygen in through the sealed areas and that is apparently what’s happened,’ Kokshoorn told TVNZ.

He said the families were coping well with the latest setback, but are still hopeful for a recovery as soon as possible.

"The families are coping okay, you can understand that the anxiety levels are still up, and a lot of people out there are saying look you’ve got to move on, but if you are in the position they are, you want closure, especially now that they have seen there are bodies down there," he said.

Kokshoorn said the families were more determined than ever to get into the mine since footage from inside the mine revealed what appeared to be two bodies.

He said the families have been supported by the local community.

"The community are rallying behind the families, we are a mining community down here and we have seen disasters before, so we know what we have to do,” he said.

We will stand by the families as long as we have to."

The agreement reached on Monday by family, government, rescuers and receivers outlined a plan to start work on an airtight seal about 100 metres from the tunnel.

Authorities have warned that recovering the bodies could take weeks once the recovery effort begins, as the bodies are thought to be located a considerable distance from where teams will enter the tunnel.

Earlier in the week, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the government would fund the recovery effort if it was presented with a “credible and safe plan,” but so far he says none have been provided.

He said once the entrance to the mine is completely sealed, work can begin to make the 2.3 kilometre entrance tunnel safe and eventually gain access into the main part of the mine where the men died.

The entrance tunnel is currently full of nitrogen pumped in by the Gorniczy Agregat Gasniczy (GAG) jet, to prevent any further explosions.

Once the entrance has been made airtight a series of air locks will be constructed at 300 metre intervals to pump the gas out and oxygen back in.

A new tunnel will need be drilled to get around it to gain access to the main part of the mine, as a rock fall at the end of the mine’s access tunnel is proving an obstacle.

Kokshoorn this morning said the latest setback highlighted the need for a plan B.

"There’s a lot of pitfalls to going down there," he said.

"It’s like anything, if you don’ have a plan B then you are likely to have problems down the track, especially when you are trying to peer 120m down a mountain, inside a tunnel."

He wants a think tank, involving the Prime Minister and Solid Energy.

"They [Solid Energy] are the only potential owners who have come forward and said they will recover the bodies."

Kokshoorn said the $6 – 10 billion worth of coal down the mine meant it was important the government is involved.

"It’s what New Zealand needs at the moment to keep it’s debt down," he said.

He said an agreement with Solid Energy would mean the cost of the operation could be deducted from the sale price, meaning that the owners would be paying for the recovery


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