THE families of two Scots killed in a mining disaster in New Zealand may eventually get to bury their loved ones, after a plan was drawn up to re-enter the site.
The bodies of Malcolm Campbell, 25, of St Andrews, and colleague Peter Rodger, 40, formerly of Perth, remained in the mine at Pike River after a gas explosion in 2010 killed 29 men, in New Zealand’s worst mining disaster in almost a century.
A proposal to re-enter the mine, near the South Island town of Greymouth, is to be sent to the board of Solid Energy –the mine’s new owner – this month.
If approved by Solid Energy and the New Zealand government’s High Hazards Unit, it will be rubber-stamped and sent to the energy minister for final approval by the Cabinet.
The plan was developed by Solid Energy, the bereaved families and the New Zealand government. Prime minister John Key has already promised $NZ10 million (£5.12m) to aid the recovery plan.
The families of Mr Campbell and Mr Rodger hope to receive confirmation about the plan’s feasibility in a matter of weeks.
“I understand they’re working through it right now,” New Zealand energy minister Simon Bridges said.
“I won’t muck around. I will move on that with real haste.”
Once the plan is approved by Cabinet, a body retrieval operation should commence quickly, he said. “I wouldn’t expect that to take more than days – certainly not weeks or months.”
But Mr Key warned the families that the tunnel where the bodies are located is blocked by rockfall and has so far made mine entry impossible.
“I worry about how far we’ll be able to get up the drift,” Mr Key said. “But going no further, they’ll be close to their loved ones, but not close enough.”
The families’ spokesman, Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael in the explosion and has campaigned tirelessly to have the bodies of the men retrieved, believes that whilst the plan could still be scuppered by safety concerns, the families have never been more hopeful of laying their loved ones to rest.
“There is still the door for prosecutions to happen, so I think it’s important we get down there and do the whole job, and number one is get the men out and answer those questions,” Mr Monk said.
Recovery missions have so far stalled due to safety concerns.
In November, a Royal Commission found that the Pike River mine disaster was preventable and caused by the mine being used before it was ready. Shortly after the commission’s findings were made public, three international mine experts – New Zealand’s Dave Feickert and Britons David Creedy and Bob Stevenson – met Solid Energy, rescue experts and the government’s Labour Department to assess the feasibility of re-entering the mine.
Mr Stevenson said: “I have been involved in many mine re-entries, but not under such appalling mining standards as this.
“You couldn’t have been more wrong in this mine if you planned it. You’re not a Third World country. We didn’t expect it of you.”