A Defence Force helicopter has removed 25 tonnes of debris
from the Pike River mine - the first step to recovering the
bodies of the 29 miners who died there.
Work began yesterday removing material from the top of the
West Coast mine in preparation for an attempt to re-enter the
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is providing assistance
to Solid Energy, using a helicopter to hoist material from
the top of the mine's ventilation shaft to clear the area for
stage one of the project.
The work began nearly nearly three years after 29 men died in
the mine during a series of explosions.
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman and Energy and Resources
Minister Simon Bridges welcomed the start of operations.
"The Government has been working closely with Solid Energy to
ensure the re-entry plan can be safely carried out. Safety is
paramount, and the project will be carefully managed with a
risk assessment undertaken at each stage," Mr Bridges said.
The Air Force NH90 helicopter is supported by a team of NZ
Army air lift operations personnel.
"This is the first time an Air Force NH90 helicopter has been
tasked to support another government agency in this type of
operation," Dr Coleman said.
Good weather this morning meant the team was able to make an
early start, already lifting away 25 tonnes of debris.
Up to 20 loads are expected to be transported this week.
"The NH90 has twice the lifting capacity of civilian
helicopters. It is an advanced medium utility helicopter with
state-of-the-art technology, and the capability allows the
Defence Force to undertake a wide variety of roles."
However, the operation didn't include entry into the main
mine, which was blocked by the rock fall, Mr Bridges said.
"The Government cannot speculate on re-entering the main mine
until the tunnel re-entry has been successfully achieved."
It is understood the operation could take up to six months to
recover the sons, husbands, partners and fathers trapped
underground. While families of the victims are excited the
day has finally arrived, most believe work should have begun
about two and a half years ago.
Early last month Prime Minister John Key pledged $10 million
of government support for a re-entry plan if it was safe,
technically feasible and financially credible.
The staged re-entry plan is designed to seal off the
ventilation shaft in the mine's main entry tunnel, known as
The mine will be pumped full of nitrogen to force out any
methane gas and allow experts to walk down a 2.3km shaft to a
While most of the bodies were believed to be inside the
mine's main workings, the families believe some men may have
been inside the drift when blasts ripped through the mine on
November 19, 2010.