Pike River oxygen levels high, mine re-entry delayed

Gathered at a media conference in Greymouth yesterday are (from left) Sonya Rockhouse and Anna...
Gathered at a media conference in Greymouth yesterday are (from left) Sonya Rockhouse and Anna Osborne, of the Family Reference Group, Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn and chief operating officer Dinghy Pattinson. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Families of the 29 men who died in the Pike River mine are disappointed by an 11th-hour delay to today's re-entry operation but accept safety must come first.

Expert miners were due to enter the West Coast mine this morning in a long-awaited bid to try to recover the remains of the 29 men killed during the November 19, 2010 disaster.

The Pike River Recovery Agency (PRRA) has been working for months to purge methane and oxygen from the mine by pumping in nitrogen. But on Wednesday elevated oxygen levels were recorded from a borehole 2.3km into the mine's drift, where the roof collapsed in the 2010 explosions. The oxygen had the potential for a "spontaneous combustion event".

Yesterday afternoon, Pike River Recovery Minister Andrew Little made the announcement to delay re-entry. "... unexpected and unexplained readings were reported by the atmospheric monitoring systems in the Pike River mine, leading to re-entry operations being suspended," he said.

The delay could last days, even weeks, but PRRA bosses say they will "definitely" still go into the mine.

Anna Osborne, chairwoman for the Pike River Family Reference Group and whose husband Milton died in the tragedy, said the families would be disappointed.

She is "slightly" disappointed, too, but was glad that the agency was putting the health and safety of the men going back into the mine first.

It was not a show-stopper and once the issues were investigated, "it will be back on".

Along with Mr Little, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Green Party co-leader James Shaw and National Party Pike River spokesman Mark Mitchell were all due to attend the reopening today.

"Yesterday unexpected and unexplained readings were reported by the atmospheric monitoring systems in the Pike River mine, leading to re-entry operations being suspended," Mr Little said.

"If you can't explain it, you stop what you're doing until you can."

Mr Little said the unpredictable nature of the operation was expected, and information about the events of the last 12 to 24 hours is now being looked at.

The elevated oxygen levels might be because the monitoring equipment is inaccurate. Another possibility is that it oxygen was coming through the strata.

Mr Little said the delay "could be days, could be weeks", but a safety priority meant that further action could not take place until more was known about the elevated oxygen levels.

The atmosphere in the drift has changed and the air is not breathable.

Mr Little was disappointed at the delay and for the families, but safety had to come first.

He said the families knew the technical challenge of the project, and while the families were disappointed with the delay, they were also realistic.

"Safety must come first. No more lives can be put at risk," Mr Little said.

Families had been readying themselves for an emotional moment when the 30m-seal at the mine's entrance was to be breached.

It has been more than eight years since the heartache from the loss of 29 men's lives, outrage over attempts to permanently seal the mine - which the families successfully fought - and frustration at the lack of accountability.

They have also wanted it to be treated as a crime scene, and any clues which may lead to a future prosecution, gathered and explored.

After the methane gas explosion, fears of further explosions prevented any search and rescue attempts.

Toxic gas levels and safety concerns meant the first attempt back into the mine, four days after the initial explosion, was made with a New Zealand Defence Force robot, which broke down just 550m in after reaching water.

Four more robots followed, with mixed results, including video footage on November 25, 2010, from 1600m into the mine, which showed extensive damage from the second blast and ended hope of recovering the 29 trapped miners.

Comments

I think being safe is the correct thing to do in this case / but we must think back to the strongman mine disaster many years ago...... the mines team that went in and got most of the bodies out . went in.....no high tec.....just went in............

 

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