The team working to find a missing digger driver in a North Canterbury quarry has moved hundreds of tonnes of rock and has reached the top of the digger cab.
Murray George Taylor was driving a digger yesterday when a rockface collapsed, burying him in about 1000 tonnes of rock at the Heathstock Haulage lime quarry, near Waikari.
The 56-year-old owns the quarry company.
A large team - drawn from police, WorkSafe, the Fire Service and geotechnical experts - has been working to remove rock and debris to try and reach Mr Taylor, who is presumed dead.
Inspector Corrie Parnell said this afternoon the team was making good progress and had removed about 750 metric tonnes of limestone and debris.
Mr Parnell said police hoped they could return Mr Taylor to his family by the end of the day.
"We envisage that at this stage we'll continue through into the early evening and potentially beyond [to] the hours of darkness, in terms of the way things are progressing.
"So, on that front, we're optimistic we'll have some sort of resolution today."
Mr Taylor's family said in a statement he left for work as usual yesterday to do a job he thoroughly enjoyed.
They described him as a much-loved husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend.
Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley said the district's deputy mayor visited Mr Taylor's wife yesterday to offer her support. The district council owns the quarry land.
Family members arrived at the quarry earlier today and were escorted onto the site by police officers.
An ambulance and what appeared to be a hearse also arrived at the quarry.
Complex recovery operation
The 25-strong team, which includes mining specialists and geotech engineers, has been continuing efforts today to extract the digger.
Mr Parnell, who has been overseeing the recovery operation, said a geotechnical survey of the area was completed this morning.
"An ambulance is on standby at the scene as a precaution and part of the site risk management plan," he said.
"Currently, we are not considering the use of remote-controlled equipment or drones - however we have brought in heavy duty equipment such as excavators, bulldozers and winching equipment."
Mr Parnell said earlier today strong winds in the area were reducing visibility at the site because of dust. It was difficult to estimate how long the recovery operation would take because of the complexity of the site, he said.
Christchurch aerial photography and drone footage firm Helicam Pro had arrived at the quarry entrance shortly after 8.30am. Contractors from Smith Crane and Construction and Rosco, a mining specialist contracting firm, arrived just after 7am.
The accident is the third serious incident at a quarry since March. Scott Baldwin, 43, was killed at Gordons Valley Lime Company near Timaru in March and the following month Tane Hill-Ormsby, 25, died after a 45-tonne rock cutter rolled at Oropi Quarry in Tauranga.
WorkSafe introduced new regulations in January, which gave quarries a year to register with the health and safety regulator, and update their safety standards.
It said the North Canterbury quarry was yet to notify it that it was operating as the new rules required.
General manager of high hazards Brett Murray said WorkSafe was working on creating a national database of quarries and 160 had registered.
"We had visited the [North Canterbury] quarry a number of years ago, pre-WorkSafe, but the quarry itself hadn't formally notified WorkSafe that it was operating as a quarry as they're required to do," he said
The country's quarries are thought to number between 700 and 1000.
Labour Party spokesperson for labour relations Iain Lees-Galloway said health and safety laws needed to be strengthened now.
"Accidents will happen, but you can reduce the incidence of the accidents and you can reduce the likelihood that accidents will cause injury and death."
Prime Minister John Key said while the industry was not included in new tougher regulations for mining, improved guidelines for the sector were on their way.
"And that's what the Minister of Labour is effectively doing, and that's because there are different risks in quarries," he said. "I suspect there will be a new improved set of guidelines that will be introduced fairly shortly."
Aggregate and Quarry Association chief executive Roger Parton told Morning Report more than half the country's quarries chose not to belong to the association.
The North Canterbury quarry was not a member and Mr Parton said the association had no way of knowing whether the company had a certificate known as a B grade manager's ticket.