SYDNEY – The Government of New Zealand announced on Wednesday a plan to try to re-enter the Pike River Mine on the South Island, where the bodies of 29 miners remain unrecovered since Nov. 19, 2010.
“The process we’ve gone through to plan a safe, re-entry has been extensive and robust. Experts from around the world have spent months examining details of all the risks pertaining to each option,” said Justice Minister Andrew Little, who is in charge of the operation.
“Work to prepare the mine drift for re-entry is underway, and includes venting methane from the mine, pumping nitrogen into the mine, and then filling the drift with fresh air. Additional boreholes have to be drilled and this work will get underway immediately,” he explained.
The attempt to enter the mine, which at the time of the tragedy was owned by New Zealand company Pike River Coal, is expected to take place in February, once the 30-meter thick seal is passed.
“We needed to fight, we need to bring home our men if we can,” a spokesperson of the families said in statements quoted by Radio New Zealand.
The executive director of the Pike River Recovery Agency, Dave Gawn, received three plans to access the mine in July after a process involving the participation of the families of the 29 miners and experts.
The government ruled out two of the plans, which included drilling an additional 200-meter tunnel and widening the shaft respectively, and accepted the one that proposes to enter through the main conduit.
In 2014, the New Zealand company Solid Energy, the new owner of the mineral deposit, announced that it would not allow entry to the mine due to the high risk it poses to the health of people.
The Pike River tragedy claimed the lives of 29 miners, 23 of them New Zealanders, three British, two Australians and one South African, aged between 17-62.
The miners were reportedly killed by trauma, burns or asphyxiation after an explosion of methane gas which buried them 2.5 kilometers deep in a tunnel that lacked an alternate access.
Five days later they were declared presumed dead after a second explosion at the site in the town of Greymouth on the South Island, in the second largest mining accident in New Zealand’s history.