Cap goes on NZ’s Pike River Coal Mine
Workers have finally succeeded in capping New Zealand’s Pike River Coal Mine in which 29 men, including two Australians, died in an explosion last month.Two semi-circular steel plates were fitted over the ventilation shaft by helicopter, and secured with sandbags shortly after 2pm (12pm AEDT) on Sunday, Superintendent Dave Cliff said in a statement.It was hoped the cap would help trap the carbon dioxide being emitted by the Gorniczy Agregat Gasniczy (GAG) engine at the mine’s entrance, to control oxygen levels and prevent more fires, a spokesman said.Advertisement: Story continues below Gas levels will be closely monitored on Sunday. If stable, the GAG engine will be shut down for maintenance and more concrete used to seal the entrance."From that point it will be a case of maintaining a stable atmosphere inside the mine," Cliff said. If oxygen levels stay low with the cap in place, the GAG engine may not need to run continuously.Police plan to pump in nitrogen gas over the next few days to maintain an inert environment and cool the mine.A special unit to generate nitrogen is on standby in Brisbane.Asked if it was still intended for police to recover the bodies of the 29 mine workers trapped inside since an explosion in the mine three weeks ago, the spokesman said that was now Pike River Coal Mine management’s decision.Those who died in the mine included 24 New Zealanders, two Queenslanders, two Scots and a South African.Police on Friday announced plans to hand over responsibility for the mine back to the company, which said it was committed to trying to recover the men.NZ Police Commissioner Howard Broad said now the mine is more stable, the police emergency response role was coming to a "natural end point".But police reassured families of the dead men that they would be based in Greymouth for the next 12 months, providing welfare support and co-ordination as well as investigating the deaths."We remain fully committed to supporting the families and working with other government agencies and local community groups to ensure the families’ welfare needs and longer term support are catered for," Mr Cliff said.