Pike River families forced to abandon recovery mission

  • 06/11/2014

The Pike River families have given up the fight to get back into the mine that claimed the lives of 29 men when it blew up four years ago.

But in return, Solid Energy has quit mining there and the Government's offered to establish a reserve in memory of the miners entombed underground.

"I want to get my guys home but the likelihood is pretty minimal now, and to go through that time all over again," says families' spokesperson Bernie Monk. "It's my life, I've got to get on with my life."

"If 20 men went up the mine on recovery and the mine exploded and they died as well, that would be a shame that would hang over all New Zealanders and I don't think that would be the right step," says Prime Minister John Key.

Earlier the meeting between Solid Energy, the Government and families brought strong emotion as the realisation sank in that the mine really is the last resting place for the 29 men who died there.

"If Rutherford could split an atom and we can't retrieve our men from work there's a problem, because we're supposed to be the most ingenious minds in the world," says Laurie Drew.

Families arrived today grim-faced and many carrying pictures of their loved ones. They were backed by a small group of protesters.

The meeting ran twice as long as expected, and the families emerged first.

Solid Energy, the Prime Minister and family representatives sat at the same table to address the media. Mr Monk couldn't hide his emotions.

Solid Energy stuck to its line that it was too dangerous to go in, in spite of WorkSafe New Zealand and other experts saying it could be done.

"The board was unable to reach a sufficient level of confidence that further risk to life at this site could not be managed or controlled," says Solid Energy Board chairwoman Pip Dunphy.

Solid Energy's final act was to hand back its Pike River mining permit to the Government.

As for the families, now they've accepted Solid Energy's decision – it's the end of a battle that's left many scars.

The Pike River Mine itself, and the surrounding area, will become a memorial reserve.

The details will now be worked out between the Government, Solid Energy, and the families. It's a beautiful spot and used to be conservation land before the disaster.

"Families at the very least would be looking forward to see the land as part of the adjoining national park, or become Schedule 4 land, which would mean no further mining," says lawyer for the families Colin Smith.

It's as an idea the Government is keen to make happen.

Almost $5 million remains in the fund the Government pledged towards body recovery.

About the same has been spent already, but pictures released today show the difficulties inside the mine – wires and equipment hang loose, while outside bad weather caused a rockfall on to the nitrogen line.

The money will now go towards maintaining an access road so families can always get into the area.

"I think it's important for New Zealand that our men aren't forgotten, and we appreciate what New Zealand has done for us as well," says Mr Monk.

Families also want the buildings to be used for some form of health and safety training.

One thing they don't want is mining, and that's why Solid Energy's mining permit has been handed in as a mark of respect, and the area will become a reservation.

3 News

source: newshub archive