Assurances follow Macraes slip

The slip at the Macraes mine.
The slip at the Macraes mine.
Central South Island Helicopters Ltd pilot Gary Oakes, who evacuated mine staff, at his Herbert...
Central South Island Helicopters Ltd pilot Gary Oakes, who evacuated mine staff, at his Herbert base, Photos by Craig Baxter.

A massive slip at the Macraes mine on Saturday is not expected to shorten the projected life of the mine, and gold extraction will continue using stockpiled ore.

That was the assurance from Oceana Gold New Zealand officials yesterday after the slip closed down the country's largest gold mine. The site includes the pit, an underground mine and a processing plant.

About 20 underground staff were flown out by helicopter because the slip cut off haul road access. No-one was hurt.

The wall of the pit collapsed and a huge volume of rock slid into the pit, between Palmerston and Ranfurly, about 100km from Dunedin. The slip did not block the underground portal.

Oceana Gold New Zealand officials said a section of the west wall failed after heavy rainfall.

''The wall was being continuously monitored and there were no personnel working in the open pit at the time of the failure,'' company officials said.

The underground mine was unaffected.

Asked about concerns the scale of the slip could shorten the mine's life, Oceana Gold Corporation investor relations manager Sam Pazuki, of Toronto, said production would continue, as scheduled, until 2017. He expected ''minimal impact on near-term production'', because of stockpiled ore.

''We're not expecting any long-term impact on the operation but we're still assessing [details of the slip],'' he said.

Asked if the latest slip was bigger than the slip of January 5 last year, he said details were still being assessed.

On that occasion, gold extraction also continued using stockpiled ore and it took about two weeks to re-establish road access to the affected mine area.

Asked if multimillion-dollar equipment, such as a digger and a truck, may have been caught under the fallen rock, Mr Pazuki said that was not the case and none of the firm's heavy moving gear had been damaged.

Extensive safety planning was undertaken by Oceana Gold and advanced monitoring equipment was in place in detect any rock movement on site, he said.

Oceana Gold officials said the haul road was expected to be repaired over the next few days.

The firm was ''monitoring the movement, as we always do,'' officials said.

Herbert-based Central South Island Helicopters Ltd chief pilot John Oakes said a McDonnell Douglas 520 helicopter, piloted by his brother, Gary Oakes, had flown workers from the pit after being alerted by Oceana Gold.

The operation had gone ''like clockwork'', with the staff flown out four at a time.

''I'm very pleased because that's what we trained for,'' Mr Oakes said.

A WorkSafe New Zealand official said an inspector had been sent to the mine. It was not known at this stage how long any investigation would take. 

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