Going further into Pike River 'feasible and safe' - former NZ chief mine inspector

Families of the 29 killed at Pike River are pushing to expand the recovery mission. They say new information proves it's possible - and answers could lie metres away.

But for Bernie Monk, who lost his son at Pike River, the dead and the truth still lie beyond reach.

"I do not want people of Pike River to die not knowing the truth of what happened to their loved ones underground, and I think they deserve that," he said.

The farthest point anyone has ventured since the mine exploded in 2010 is called the ROCSIL plug and lies at the end of the Pike River Drift, it's at this point where the recovery mission stopped.

Totally blocked by a roof collapse, it was long thought to be impassible - but now there's hope - things have changed.

Investigator Richard Healey says new information has come to light about the major barrier to entry.

"The thing that's been referred to as the rock fall - is actually smaller than we thought...Our experts say this is a simple task to get beyond that roof fall," he told Newshub Nation. 

The Pike River Recovery Agency now knows where the roof collapse starts.

There are two separate blockages one is 15 meters and small enough to see over the top. The second roof fall is right up against it and another 15 metres away is the road to mine's main fan.

It's thought the fan may have sparked the explosion.

The roof fall is all that stands in the way.

"The families of these miners have not had answers for 10 years, and they deserve answers. Those answers are now a mere 12 to 15m away through well crushed coal," says Healey.

International mining expert Tony Forster was New Zealand's chief mine inspector, now he's advising the families at Pike.

He told Newshub Nation the new information means going beyond the roof fall isn't just feasible - it's safe.

"The second roof-void is the mis-named 'Massive Rock-Fall' - which appears to be neither massive nor comprised of rock," he said.

He also believes it could be easily cleared with arches supported by steel and timber.

 "This is standard mining engineering practice in every form of coal mining, stone and civil engineering," he said.

"In terms of scale and cost ... it's not an especially big job."

But according to Pike River Recovery Agency CEO Dave Gawn, it isn't in the agency's mandate.

"It's not up to me or us to speculate whether it's feasible or not - we have a quite specific mandate from Government, which is to recover the mine drift."

Instead it's a question of political will and Pike River Recovery Minister Andrew Little says nothing's changed.

"The families agreed and we were all very clear what the mandate was - it was to recover the drift. Anything beyond that is just a phonemally greater and more expensive exercise, and I'm sorry, but we cannot commit to doing that."

The mine will be handed over in June to the Department of Conservation when it will become a National Park.

 "We've spent $50m to get this far, we are metres from the answers - don't stop now," says Healey

"Unless we get reentry before the mine is sealed and handed back to DOC that chance is gone forever."

 Buried with the 29 men at Pike River. Who could be a matter of metres away.