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Attempt To Cap Pike River Shaft Delayed Until Tomorrow

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Dec 11 NZPA - After a delay caused by the weather, an attempt will be made tomorrow to cap a shaft into the Pike River Coal mine where the remains of 29 men lie, and quell the fire believed to be burning underground.

It was originally hoped that a cap could be put in place this morning to speed up the process of stabilising the mine.

Everything was in place for a helicopter to lift two 770-kilogram semi-circular steel plates into place to seal off the vent shaft tomorrow morning, Superintendent Dave Cliff said.

"We're ready to go, but rain, wind and low cloud around the site have delayed the lifts today," Mr Cliff said.

"We need to ensure conditions are safe for what is a challenging helicopter operation."

Following a series of explosions at the mine, about 50km northeast of Greymouth, a fire has prevented the recovery of the bodies of the miners and contractors. An active fire, at times visible from the vent drilled down to the mine, is believed to be out, but the underground fire may still be smouldering.

The GAG unit was still working to stabilise conditions inside the mine, but would be phased out once the cap was in place and the atmosphere stabilised.

"When the GAG process to extinguish the fire and reduce oxygen levels is complete, the next stage is to pump nitrogen into the mine to maintain an inert environment and increase the cooling process," Mr Cliff said.

Planning was underway to bring a nitrogen-generating unit from Australia.

Police are now handing over the recovery operation to the mine company, which has vowed to spend its last dollar to recover the men killed last month.

Pike River officials met with workers yesterday and will proceed with redundancies, as expected.

Engineering, Manufacturing and Printing Union (EPMU) national secretary Andrew Little said yesterday most of the remaining 80 to 90 workers were likely to lose their jobs in mid-January, with just a small core of maintenance crew retained.

Workers were likely to be given the four-week notice period for redundancy on Wednesday.

Mr Kokshoorn will meet Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee next week to see what can be done to help the Coast.

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