22 Oct 2013

Hopes Pike recovery efforts will yield answers

10:10 am on 22 October 2013

The man leading efforts to recover bodies from the Pike River mine hopes the operation will also lead to a better understanding of exactly what caused the mine to explode nearly three years ago.

Air Force and army personnel have been working since Saturday to clear two generators and a damaged fan from a hill above the mine so the ventilation shaft can be filled with concrete.

Solid Energy's Mark Pizey.

Solid Energy's Mark Pizey. Photo: RNZ

The work is part of efforts to stabilise the mine's gassy atmosphere and the start of a $7.2 million Government-funded effort to recover remains of 29 men killed in a series of explosions that began on 19 November 2010.

Solid Energy's Mark Pizey said on Monday that all of the recovered material will be inspected as they seek to establish how the explosion occurred and where any blame may lie.

Mr Pizey said vital clues could also be gleaned from gaining access to the 2km long entry tunnel.

Flight Lieutenant George McInnes with Cath and Bernie Monk.

Flight Lieutenant George McInnes with Cath and Bernie Monk. Photo: RNZ

He said five loads of material were removed on Monday and there are several more loads to go, but the weather has closed in and operations will be deferred until Wednesday at the earliest.

Using one of the Air Force's new NH90 helicopters, crew and support staff have been ferrying segments of the old fan off the top of the hill to a landing strip 7km away.

It is hoped that by next March, it will be safe for a recovery team to walk a inside the mine in search for the men's remains.

Flight Lieutenant George McInnes is an old school friend of mine victim Michael Monk and was the first to put his hand up for the recovery effort when the job came up.

He said it is special to be able to help out and has fond memories of his time with Mr Monk, including their OE to Ireland.