Plans to enter the embattled Pike River Coal mine on New Zealand’s west coast could finally start this month, with gas levels showing a significant drop.
Recovery efforts have been continually delayed at the coal mine where 29 men died in November due to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
Receiver John Fisk told TVNZ that if the levels remain low, work is likely to begin on 27 June.
He said carbon monoxide levels inside the mine have fallen from a high of 6000 parts per million two weeks ago to about 1350 parts per million on Tuesday and oxygen levels are also rising.
Fisk said gas levels need to fall to about 1200 parts per million.
Final plans for the stabilisation work will be discussed at a meeting between the victim’s families and receivers tonight after talks between mining company representatives, receivers and rescue teams on Tuesday night.
Fisk said the meeting tonight will go into more detail about plans and the status of the mine.
The first part of the lengthy process will be sealing the mine to make it safer for recovery teams to enter but any decision about whether to re-enter will have to be approved by the Department of Labour, Mines Rescue and an expert panel.
The entrance tunnel is currently full of nitrogen, 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.
Workers have been able to carry out some work on the vent shaft, reducing the level of dangerous gas, and rescuers are hoping the downward trend will continue.
Fisk said once the entrance to the mine is completely sealed work can start on making the 2.3km entrance tunnel safe.
The plan is to eventually gain access into the main part of the mine where the men died.
A new tunnel will also have to be drilled to get around a rockfall at the end of the mine’s access tunnel.