13 Jan 2011

Police to end recovery efforts at Pike River mine

10:41 pm on 13 January 2011

Police say there is little hope of recovering workers killed at the Pike River Coal mine and they are ending the operation.

The bodies of 29 men remain underground in the West Coast mine following a series of explosions which began on 19 November last year.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad made the announcement at a news conference in Greymouth on Thursday night after meeting with the workers' families.

Rescue efforts had been continuing at the mine since the first explosion seven weeks ago and machines have been used to try and stabilise the volatile atmosphere inside.

However, Mr Broad said he has been advised by mining experts that it is unrealistic to think the mine will be made safe enough to attempt a recovery.

Mr Broad said a recovery plan put forward by Pike River Coal raised many questions and had been judged unrealistic.

He told the news conference there is very little hope that the men's remains can be recovered and he is not willing to put more lives at risk.

"Based on all of this advice, it would be quite wrong for the police to hold out great hope that the men would be recovered from the mine. And I have decided that the recovery phase of this operation will come to a conclusion.

"In my view, it is time to focus on the living and respect and memorialise those men who have died."

Mr Broad thanked the families for how they have dealt with the tragedy and praised the work of his staff during the operation.

Mine handed back to receivers

Pike River Coal Ltd went into receivership in December. The Police Commissioner said the mine would be handed back to receivers PricewaterhouseCoopers and they would have to decide what happens next.

Mr Broad said the mine would have to be made safe somehow, but hesitated to say that it would have to be sealed permanently.

Energy and Resource Minister Gerry Brownlee attended the meeting and said the receivers need to decide on their intentions for the mine by Monday.

"At the moment, the police are in a position of not being able to enter that mine and having no confidence that the plan in place is going to get them there anytime soon.

"So it's appropriate that the company who put up the plan, through the receivers, step up and fill that gap."

Mixed message, says mayor

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the families were given a mixed message by Mr Broad and many are still wondering if they might someday get their men back despite Thursday's announcement.

"Sadly, yes, the families do hold some hope of recovery still, because the police stopped short of saying that the mine would be sealed. They only said they are going to discontinue their funding for the recovery operation."

Mr Kokshoorn said the families desperately need finality.

Labour Party leader Phil Goff said the police decision to end the recovery operation is a huge setback for the families, who knew it was a massive task.

Mr Goff said it is important to the families that the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the disaster be held in Greymouth, as knowing why the disaster occurred is as important to them as the recovery of the bodies.