24 May 2011

Parties agree to staged re-entry of Pike River mine

5:55 am on 24 May 2011

Key parties involved in the Pike River disaster, including the families of the 29 men who died, have agreed to undertake a staged re-entry into the West Coast mine.

The miners and contractors were killed in a series of explosions that began on 19 November last year. No-one has entered the site since then.

For months, many of the relatives have been pushing for an attempt to be made to recover any human remains.

Up to 20 people, including the families' lawyers, the receivers for Pike River Coal, police and the Mines Rescue Service met in Christchurch on Monday to discuss the recovery.

It was agreed that work will begin next week to stabilise the air in the 2.3km tunnel that leads to the mine.

The stabilisation will be done in stages and mine rescue staff could get as far as the 50-metre rockfall, which is blocking the entrance to the mine, by July.

A lawyer for the families says the real question then will be how they get beyond the rockfall. Richard Raymond says at this stage, they are looking at building a tunnel into the north-west part of the mine.

This will involve about 180 metres of tunnelling through rock to get to the area where the remains are, he says.

Neville Rockhouse, who lost a son in the disaster, says the plan put in place is a very positive outcome. "And it's the first step in the process to build on and get the Pike 29 home ... they need to come home."

The Mines Rescue Service would not comment to Radio New Zealand on Monday what parts of the plan they have agreed to.

Prime Minister John Key has said it is not money which is stopping the recovery of bodies, but safety.

Representatives of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, the Department of Labour, along with Crown Law as counsel for the police and Labour Department also attended Monday's meeting.

Family wants bodies left in mine

At least one family does not want the men's bodies retrieved from the mine.

Rod Holling, whose son Richard Holling died, told Checkpoint on Monday that there is no need to recover the body.

"I'm not that interested in re-entry, thanks very much, because we would much prefer to remember our son and brother as the day he went to work - not what he may be now," Mr Holling said.

"What are they going to do? Take remains of bodies out of the cold, cold ground and do what with them - put them back in the cold ground."

Mr Holling says he wants the mine to be sealed and a memorial built to the men. He believes the mine should be developed as an open cast mine.