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Pike River Body Recovery Delayed by Dangerous Mine Atmosphere

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The recovery of bodies from New Zealand’s Pike River coal mine is being delayed by problems neutralizing the atmosphere with the possibility that the mine could be sealed, police say.

Two machines being used to inject water vapor and nitrogen into the mine to lower oxygen levels and reduce the risk of further fires “are working but we do have some difficulties,” Superintendent Gary Knowles, the police commander in charge of the operation, told Radio New Zealand today. “It’s an extremely serious situation. It’s going to take a long time.”

Asked if the mine may have to be eventually sealed, Knowles said “that’s a real possibility.”

Police want to make the mine safe so they can recover the bodies of 29 men who were trapped and killed by a series of underground explosions last month. The recovery efforts have been hampered by a coal fire that has now been brought under control, although there is still a source of heat, Knowles said.

“You’ve got a very unstable environment, very volatile and lots of heat,” he said. “We’re dealing with a mine that’s pretty unique in the way it is structured. We can’t send anyone underground until we can neutralize this environment.”

Yesterday, the Gorniczy Agregat Gasniczy jet inertisation unit which injects water vapor into the mine, was shut down for maintenance. As a result oxygen levels in the mine surged, increasing the risk of fire and forcing the evacuation of rescuers from the mine portal, police said in a statement. The GAG unit is working again, Knowles said today.

The second nitrogen injection machine is also unable to neutralize the environment because of the need to pump the gas uphill and the presence of natural fissures and cracks in the local geology, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tracy Withers in Wellington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson

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