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Teams to explore New Zealand mine where 29 died

September 3, 2013

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The government on Tuesday approved a plan for search teams to enter and explore the New Zealand coal mine where an explosion three years ago killed and entombed 29 miners.

But Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said the chances are still slim of recovering bodies from the Pike River site.

That’s because the plan would get teams only as far as a rock fall before they need to reassess conditions. Experts believe the miners died beyond the rock fall in an area that remains dangerous due to high levels of methane gas.

The re-entry plan will cost 7.2 million New Zealand dollars ($5.6 million), begin in October and take at least six months. It will involve sealing parts of the mine and pumping in nitrogen to prevent methane from reigniting.

The families of the mine victims have long demanded that the government fund a body recovery operation.

Kath Monk, whose 23-year-old son Michael died in the accident, said she was “thrilled” with the decision.

“It’s what we’ve been working toward for all these months,” she said.

Monk said the plan will allow teams to see if there are any remains in front of the rock fall and learn more about what went wrong and the conditions beyond the rock fall. She said the families of victims remain hopeful that teams will eventually be able to search beyond the rock fall and recover remains.