Mines Rescue enters the Pike River Mine for the first time since the explosions.
Mines Rescue enters the Pike River Mine for the first time since the explosions.

Mine disaster mum's wish

JOANNE Ufer has had the same heart-wrenching wish for seven months – to bring her son Josh back home.

As the confirmation came that all 29 underground coal miners at New Zealand’s Pike River Mine were killed and there was little chance of immediate body recovery, Joanne was joined by the Central Queensland mining community in mourning.

But when rescue crews yesterday morning re-entered the mine for the first time since

November, Joanne was given a ray of hope she’d soon be able to bury her son in Queensland.

“I thought it might’ve happened sooner… but it’s one of the most positive bits of news we’ve had in seven months,” Joanne said.

“Basically we’ve been told the process will be a long one and could be up to 15 months to two years until they get to recovery.”

Having endured months of little or no news, Joanne is grateful the first step has begun.

Like the families of the other entombed miners, she had faced an emotionally agonising wait as one economic disaster followed another as to the sale of the mine site.

Now, with the New Zealand Government reportedly investigating the legality of making body recovery a condition of the mine’s sale, Joanne is confident she will at last bury her son on home soil.

But her current focus is on the recovery attempt.

Joanne said the prospect of waiting another two years before an attempt was made to enter the stricken mine was impossible. “I wanted Josh to be home for Christmas but I know that’s not going to happen,” Joanne said.

“But it’s positive that they’ve re-entered the mine.”

Now Joanne, along with the families of the other entombed miners, will get regular updates as to the progress made.

New Zealand media reported rescue staff wearing breathing apparatus will work in two-hour shifts to build a temporary seal 100m from the mine’s entrance.

First reports from rescuers said the tunnel was in good condition for up to 300m inside.

The work will continue for the next five days as gas levels continue to be monitored to ensure the safety of rescuers.

Pike River mine manager Steve Ellis said rescue staff were “very, very keen to get started” on the mission, and work is expected to be completed by the end of next month.

Joanne, who has received fortnightly updates from the mine and weekly updates from the support network organised by the perished miners’ families, said everybody was hoping for the best result.

“That’s my number one priority,” she said.


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