October 3, 2019 / 6:19 AM / 14 days ago

Relatives of NZ's Pike River mine disaster visit sealed site

Oct 3 (Reuters) - A survivor and relatives of 29 men who died nine years ago in one of New Zealand’s worst industrial disasters visited the Pike River mine on Thursday, ahead of government attempts to make a full recovery of the site.

More than two dozen people went 170 metres (560 feet) into the closed mine to where it was sealed off after the deadly series of methane explosions in November 2010, the Pike River Recovery Agency said in statement.

“Most of the family members had never been underground before, and it was a difficult journey for them emotionally,” the agency’s chief operating officer, Dinghy Pattinson, said.

Radio New Zealand reported that Daniel Rockhouse, one of two survivors of the disaster, was among those who went into the tunnel, the deepest he had been since the blasts. His brother, Ben, was killed in the explosions.

The Pike River Recovery Agency will soon begin work to remove the seal and move further into the mine working areas, where the 29 victims were thought to be when the explosions happened.

The blasts ripped through the mine on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, trapping 31 men. Only two of them managed to escape.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had promised while in opposition that her Labour Party would try to enter the mine if it won the 2017 election.

The previous government had ruled out re-entering the mine due to safety concerns, a stance that had been opposed by many family members of the men who died. ($1 = 1.5964 New Zealand dollars) (Reporting by Hans Lee Editing by Robert Birsel)

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