Exclusive: Bernie Monk and Patrick Gower's emotional journey into Pike River

The Pike River mine, eight years on it is still all burnt away. Its abandoned structures sit high in the Paparoa mountain ranges. You can see where the inferno's rage burst out.

The scorched earth around it, one of so many symbolic scars that remain today.

But now an operation to get back in is on - made obvious by the men visibly working on it. They are testing the gas levels.

Nobody has fought harder for this than Bernie Monk, and on Thursday he went in for the first time. Newshub can reveal exclusive pictures of inside the portal and the wall that seals the mine shut.

Mr Monk’s son Michael is one of the 29 men who died and whose bodies remain trapped in the concrete tomb.

It is the closest he will get to him in the eight years since an explosion ripped through the mine on November 19, 2010.

Bernie Monk touches the concrete wall that separates him from his son Michael.
Bernie Monk touches the concrete wall that separates him from his son Michael.

Mr Monk says he misses his son everyday. Entering the portal means passing an identification tag board - another of the mine's scars.

"It's painful for me to look at this, and it brings tears to my eyes. Just the waste of these guys," Mr Monk says.

It also means taking full safety measures - including a self-rescuer with oxygen supply, which gives you 30 minutes if something goes wrong.

Bernie Monk's fight to get the mine reopened has included standing in front of concrete trucks that were going to seal it.

Now the change of Government has seen the Pike River Recovery Agency (PRRA) set up, and so much is possible, including this visit.

Other family members went in in April, but not Mr Monk - he was unable to attend.

"I feel it's time for me to just go up there."  

We enter what is technically called the portal.

Bernie Monk enters the mine's portal for the first time .
Bernie Monk enters the mine's portal for the first time .

Another grim symbol, but it is actually in fresh air. It’s 98 percent methane beyond the sealed back wall.

The PRRA is taking no chances. The fear of ignition means there are to be no electrical devices - no cameras or microphones, and no way to film.

The camera we have is very old and completely mechanical - no batteries. It's the only thing we can take, as you can't take anything battery-powered beyond these certified torches in there.   

Without a flash, there is a high chance it won't work, but contraband is taken seriously and the agency's chief operating officer Dinghy Patterson even pats us down.

And then, we go into the portal.

A cold, dark concrete cave inside the opening. You can get 30 metres before hitting the 88cm-thick temporary concrete wall. Pure methane lies beyond it.

Bernie was left alone there. For a minute he just stared at the wall.

The photos came out and and show Bernie Monk inside Pike River Mine for the first time.

The moment he touched the wall, gripping on to a piece of reinforcing steel, he reflects on his ongoing fight to open the mine.

"It's that wall that's stopping us from re-entering the mine - and I just think, I just want to tear it down myself," he says.  

Mr Monk says he wants the visit to be symbolic, a sign to Kiwis that the mine is now under control enough to get so close.

GREYMOUTH, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 30: Flames burn out of control from a ventilation shaft at the Pike River Mine on November 30, 2010 in Greymouth, New Zealand. Rescue teams have been working around the clock to recover the bodies of the 29 New Zealand mine crew that lost their lives following two blasts at the Pike River Mine 50 kilometres north of Greymouth on New Zealand's west coast. (Photo by Iain McGregor-Pool/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty Images

"To let them know how safe it is, how safe this mine's become. And how safe it is to go in and get those men out," he says.   

Sharing this symbolic moment was another step in this father's struggle.

"I know that my son will know that I'm doing the utmost I have to do."

A symbol of a Kiwi battler - Bernie Monk, so close now to tearing down that wall.

Newshub.

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