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New Zealand experts reopen mine eight years after fatal blast

21 May 2019

On May 21, mining experts re-entered a coal mine closed for more than eight years after one of New Zealand’s worst industrial disasters killed 29 men, the government said, looking to investigate the cause and retrieve the remains of victims. Safety concerns prompted the previous government to rule out re-entry.

Pike River action group road-block, 2017 - Image: Shutterstock
Pike River action group road-block, 2017 - Image: Shutterstock

A series of blasts ignited by methane gas ripped through the Pike River Mine on the west coast of the South Island in November 2010, trapping 31 men, although two managed to escape.

The Pike River Recovery Agency opened the doors and went inside to check the condition of the drift (gallery) near the surface.

Families of the men gathered near the mine entrance as the experts entered, an event delayed beyond an initial date of May 3 because of concerns over oxygen levels. Borehole readings into gallery threatened a "spontaneous combustion event", the agency said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the re-entry "symbolic". "Re-entry to the drift is going to take a number of weeks and months," she said.

The Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, Andrew Little, said the tragedy was the consequence of corporate and regulatory failure, and that revisiting the seat of the explosion and retrieving the miners’ remains should enable investigators to discover the root causes.

Relatives of the dead miners had been at the heart of a growing lobby that has been pressing to have the mine reopened.

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