A pivotal moment captured in the Pike River Mine re-entry and recovery process.
Photos and video of the tunnel being reopened, which hasn't been entered for almost nine years, were released by the agency this week.
Families of the victims watched as the team cut through the drift (access) tunnel entrance on Tuesday. It has been an eight-year battle for the families to get the 2.3km tunnel open as they had been told it was too dangerous to re-enter. Re-entry had also been delayed earlier this month because a high level of oxygen was detected but it was a fault in monitoring equipment.
Rowdy Durbridge worked at Pike River and lost his boy Dan in the explosion.
"We’ve said for years that the drift could be recovered safely and now it is being recovered. I’ve walked that tunnel many times myself, but this time it’ll be different.
“Right from the start there’s been a lot of talk about respect for the 29, I reckon that going in, getting the evidence, and finding them justice is the best respect we can offer.”
Anna Osborne lost her husband to the mine explosion in 2010. She says the opening of the drift was an intense moment.
“Watching those doors open and seeing the light enter that dark tunnel for the first time in years was incredibly emotional. We’ve known we are going back in for a year now, today it feels like it.
“This is the start of a journey that will end with truth and justice.”
Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little said the tragedy that took the men’s lives was the consequence of corporate and regulatory failure.
“Fulfilling the promise to do everything possible to safely re-enter is an act of justice for families who have waited for far too long.
“It is because of the families’ tireless efforts that future mining tragedies might be prevented.
“There is still much to do. We must find out what happened at Pike River. However long that takes, the recovery project will be done professionally."
After the initial re-entry, re-entry and recovery will be carried out by three Agency teams. The first team of up to six miners including mine officials would enter the mine drift (access tunnel), assessing the state of the drift in relation to ventilation, geotech and any other hazards that may exist that will need to be fixed. They will also have a preliminary scan for any forensic evidence, before going back out of the portal to report their findings to mine officials and police.