The Government has changed tack on Pike River re-entry, citing new robot technology that will make it safer to go into the mine, and will stop the sealing of the mine.
Pike River families have been told the sealing of the mine will be stopped following a meeting with Prime Minister Bill English, with Solid Energy asked to look into new technology which could allow unmanned entry.
Family members of the Pike River miners met English for the first time in an attempt to stop the sealing of the mine, and emerged afterwards with cautious optimism about the options on the table.
Some family members of Pike River victims have been campaigning for re-entry, some haven’t.
Bernie Monk, spokesman for some of the Pike River families, said the meeting was “very positive”.
“We’ve got another step forward for us…I think they got a lot of understanding about the ins and outs, because it’s not easy for them to understand what we’ve been through over the last six years.”
Monk said English’s promise to stop the sealing of the mine would allow the group to end its picket at Pike River, which had been going on 24 hours a day for 13 weeks.
Forster said English had stated the Government’s continued opposition to any humans re-entering the drift, but shared a a “clear expectation” that non-manned technology, such as aerial drones, should be considered as an option.
‘Aerial drones’ in a mine sounds funny but they could be flown up the shaft.
English said a decision to re-enter the mine was “not about politics, it is about safety”.
In an election year with families pushing hard and parties, particularly Labour and NZ First, making a political issue out of it, then it’s hard to separate some of the politics.
“We lost 29 lives in that mine and I will not risk losing any more.”
The families’ proposal for re-entering Pike River did not include a detailed plan, “and therefore does not make the case for a safe re-entry”, he said.
However, he would ask Solid Energy to stop work on the mine’s permanent seal and explore options for unmanned entry, after the Government was approached in recent weeks by experts with new proposals.
“The families’ technical advisor agreed that there has been significant advancements in technology since the tragedy occurred six years ago.
“We will ask Solid Energy to explore those options. We will also keep the families informed and allow their technical input into the search for options for unmanned entry.”
The Government would give Solid Energy money to look into the unmanned options, English said.
If drones are used they could look but it’s unlikely they could remove bodies.
Several robot vehicles have already been sent into the mine and have failed (broken down).
Labour leader Andrew Little said stopping the sealing of the mine was “the right thing at this stage”, but questioned why the Government continued to rule out a physical re-entry.
“We’ve got to keep the pressure up…because it must still be possible to get in there and see what remains are in there.”
There is one thing worse than not doing anything about re-entry in election year and that would be sending people into the mine and losing more lives.