17 May 2011

Rescuers say Pike River mine still not safe to enter

10:33 pm on 17 May 2011

Rescuers have rejected a request for now by families of the men who died in the Pike River Coal mine to carry out a reconnaissance in preparation for recovering the bodies.

Twenty-nine men died in the West Coast mine after explosions which began on 19 November last year.

The families asked the Mines Rescue Service if they would consider walking in from the mine portal to one of the main rockfalls where they believe there may be bodies.

In a report obtained by Radio New Zealand, the Mines Rescue Service says it is too dangerous to attempt the 2.3-kilometre walk.

It says there are significant and very real risks that exist and it wants to do everything possible to recover the men, but can do this only in a way that will ensure the safety of its personnel.

The Mines Rescue Service says it does not have the authority to independently enter the mine, but does not rule out eventually recovering bodies in a fuller and more complex operation.

Family representatives are meeting with Mines Rescue, police and the receivers on Monday to discuss alternative ways to enter the mine.

Families want feasibility study

A lawyer representing the families says they want a study into the feasibility of various options for recovering the remains.

Colin Smith told Checkpoint on Tuesday that the focus up until now has been on gaining entry through the existing tunnel or drift, and it is time to look at alternatives.

Mr Smith says mining experts have raised a number of possibilities with him and the families do not think cost should be a barrier to entering the mine.

The spokesperson for the Pike River Families Committee, Bernie Monk, says all they have been told for months are reasons why people cannot go in.

Mr Monk says he wants to hear options for how people can get into the mine, and if there are dangers, they should be fixed.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn says a way into the mine needs to be found urgently.