Pike River disaster remembered 5 years on

  • 19/11/2015
Pike River Mine Memorial at Atarau, West Coast (Jeff Hampton/ 3 News)
Pike River Mine Memorial at Atarau, West Coast (Jeff Hampton/ 3 News)

By Boris Jancic

As families gather to remember five years on from the Pike River disaster, the wounds for many remain fresh and closure still elusive, the area's mayor says.

More than a hundred relatives and friends of the 29 miners killed in the 2010 explosion near Greymouth are expected to gather near the mine entrance to mark the exact minute of the deadly blast today.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said half a decade on, memories were still raw.

"The fact that the bodies are still under the Paparoa Ranges still makes it hard for the families. They would have liked to have closure," he said.

In 2014, state miner Solid Energy decided against re-entering the mine and bringing out the bodies of those killed.

Mr Kokshoorn said the families would be gathering to reminisce and support each other - despite division about whether to keep fighting for the recovery.

"There are probably now more disagreements than there was immediately after the disaster. We were in the same boat. But some people have coped better than others."

(Jeff Hampton/ 3 News)

Mr Kokshoorn said he, like others, still found himself becoming emotional recalling the disaster.

"I saw so much despair on that day. The wailing, the collapsing when they were told there was no more hope. It stays with you forever."

But the area was also trying to recover from the economic toll of the explosion, the failure of Solid Energy and falling demand for coal, he said.

A new walking track - the Pike29 Memorial - announced in the area this month was part of the region's attempt to shift to tourism.

But even that had opened up old wounds for some and started disagreement, Mr Kokshoorn said, with some saying it was disrespectful until the bodies were moved from below the path.

Pike River Families Group Committee spokesman Bernie Monk said although families would have preferred the mine be re-entered, they had voted for the walk to help the area's economy.

"Did they want to carry on the fight and go for another 10 years plus or take what's going now and let that be a memorial for the men underground?" he said.

He said they still hoped for a recovery in decades to come.

On November 19, 2010 a large methane explosion at the mine left 29 men caught underground. A second blast five days later dashed all hope of a rescue.

Two Australians, a South African and two Scots were among the dead. The youngest victim was 17, the oldest was 62.

Their families and friends will meet this morning before going to the site to mark a minute of silence at 3:44pm.

In the evening a small public memorial will be held in the town of Blackball.

NZN