GIANT DIGGER IS OFF; Landmark mining machine US-bound.
A FORMER coalmining monster is finally bidding farewell to the North East after a mammoth removal operation.
The Ace of Spades - a 4,000-tonne excavator which dominated the skyline at the Stobswood opencast mine in Northumberland for more than a decade - is being loaded on board a ship at Blyth for its journey to a new life in the United States.
It has been reduced to more than a thousand separate pieces to be shipped to America.
The loading operation at the Battleship Wharf Terminal will go on until early next month.
The massive excavator has been painstakingly dismantled in a nine-month operation, and will be put back together again in New Orleans for use by the North American Coal Corporation at the Red Mills mine in Ackerman, Mississippi.
The excavator was broken down into manageable pieces and has been stored at the Port of Blyth since January.
The project has made use of the port's new hi-tech cranes, capable of lifting pieces up to 100 tonnes in one lift.
Martin Lawlor, chief executive of the Port of Blyth said: "We are delighted to be involved in this major project."
The Port has developed a reputation for dealing with a variety of specialist project movements from the movement of individual components to the mobilisation of entire Wind farms.
More than 200 truckloads of parts have been moved to the Port of Blyth, along with the 300ft-long boom and 100-tonne capacity bucket.
Once across the Atlantic, the Ace will be put back together again in a two-year rebuilding programme.
It put in 56,000 hours of work at Stobswood and is expected to operate for about 6,000 hours a year for 20 years at Red Hills, helping produce coal for the generation of elect ricity.
Ace of Spades was the biggest excavator of its kind in Europe in the 90s, and its job was to eat away at layers of rock, sand and clay so that smaller machines could get in and extract the underlying coal.
It was built over 18 months on site at Stobswood and cost its original owner, British Coal, about pounds 2m