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Pike River tunnel re-entry project begins with NZDF help

21 October 2013

Pike River tunnel re-entry project begins with New Zealand Defence Force assistance

The project to re-enter and explore the main tunnel of the former Pike River Mine has begun, with personnel and an NH90 helicopter from the New Zealand Defence Force on site lifting material from around the top of the mine ventilation shaft.

In early September the Government approved conditional funding of a staged plan to re-enter and explore the tunnel up to a rock fall approximately 2.3 km in from the mine portal. The project, managed by Solid Energy, is subject to on-going safety and technical assessment as each stage is undertaken. An explanation of the project is at http://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/Pike_River_exploration_diagram.pdf

Royal New Zealand Air Force and NZ Army personnel are removing structures such as fan ducting and generator sets to clear the ventilation shaft area for stage one of the project – filling the remaining 50-60 metres of the shaft to ensure full control of the mine atmosphere.

Air Component Commander (ACC) Mike Yardley says the NZ Defence Force has the capability to respond at short notice for these types of operations and this is the first time an NH90 has been tasked to support another Government agency. “The NH90 has twice the lifting capacity of civilian helicopters available to Solid Energy and therefore we are pleased to be able to provide assistance for this important task,” Air Commodore Yardley said.

Solid Energy Chairman, Mark Ford, says the start of operation is significant for the Pike River family members who have been waiting for a long time. “We are pleased to have reached this start point and to have the support of the New Zealand Defence Force in clearing the site,” Mr Ford says. “While Solid Energy is managing the project, it is very much a collaborative effort, with funding from the Government and the expertise of many individuals and organisations who have come together to plan it and carry it out safely.”

Safety is a prime concern in all aspects of the project. The overall approach was approved by the Solid Energy Board prior to it receiving Government funding. Progressive approvals by the Solid Energy Board and on-going monitoring will be required for all stages of the project. The conceptual project plans for the tunnel re-entry were developed by a group of mining experts, including Solid Energy staff, independent mining consultants and the New Zealand Mines Rescue Service, with oversight from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s High Hazards Unit. An independent panel of experts (mining engineers, ventilation experts and risk management experts) formally assessed the risks of the plans.

ENDS

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