In a final milestone for 2020, the Pike River recovery operation has reached near the end of the mine drift, nearly one year after the 170m barrier was broken.
The Pike River Recovery Agency Chief Operating Officer Dinghy Pattinson said workers last night reached the "Rocsil Plug" — a remote ventilation plug made of foam — 2244m up the mine drift.
The milestone, reached at 8pm yesterday, comes 349 days after the dismantling of the 170m seal.
“We’ve now achieved another milestone … this is as far as we go this year, as we close down for Christmas today and restart on Tuesday 5 January 2021,” Pattinson said.
A methane explosion occurred in the West Coast mine at 3.44pm on November 19, 2010, with 31 miners and contractors inside at the time.
Two men were able to walk out of the mine with moderate injuries, but the remaining 29 have never been recovered.
The re-entry team is trying to recover remains of the 29 men from the mine and evidence about the tragedy.
Next year will see the start of final forensic work around the plug area. The team will also install a ventilation control device — effectively a wall with an airlock and doors. This door will be located at about 2224m up the drift, he said.
Once that device is in place, fresh air can be circulated up until that point in the drift.
Pattinson said, beyond that point, mine workers will wear breathing apparatuses to go through the airlock door. There, workers would recover the last few metres to the roof fall and carry out final forensic searches of the drift.
The agency then planned to complete the forensics search and recovery operations at “Pit Bottom in Stone", a 600m network of tunnels which starts around 1885m up the mine drift tunnel. Mining infrastructure, including underground electrical substations, switchboards, sumps, pumps and crushers, can be found here.