Pike River: Govt never ruled out stopping at drift, documents show

There's new pressure on the minister in charge of Pike River to consider going further into the mine - with documents revealing the Government promised to that in 2017.

Last week, Minister Andrew Little told Newshub Nation he was ruling out the idea of investigating beyond the drift. However, the Cabinet paper committed to considering it, and some families are saying Little has gone back on his word.

The recovery of the 2.3km drift is almost complete, however further evidence and the bodies of the 29 men remain out of reach.

"This part of the journey I find a little relief, and quite a bit of frustration with how the money's run out and we can't really continue," Rowdy Durbridge, whose son Daniel Herk died in the mine, says.

Newshub Nation has obtained footage of the loader - driven by Daniel Rockhouse - being removed from the mine this week, after sitting inside for more than a decade. 

Rockhouse was one of two people to survive the disaster, with the rest of his former colleagues trapped behind a roof fall, where the minister responsible says they'll remain. 

"I've dealt with a lot of other falls within a lot of other mines, and I believe in my heart that this fall here is passable," Durbridge says.

 Last week Andrew Little told Newshub Nation the families agreed that's as far as it goes.

"We're all very clear what the mandate was, it was to recover the drift," he said.

However, families say there was no such agreement. 

"I didn't sign anything to say once we got to the fall, that'd be it," Durbridge says. 

Documents obtained by Newshub Nation prove the Government never promised to stop at the drift.

The Pike Families Reference Group asked the Government "that the possibility of entering the mine workings is left open until the drift's been recovered". 

"A proper assessment can only be made… once the rockfall blocking access has been inspected," the document says.

The Cabinet paper establishing the Pike River Recovery Agency reveals this is something the Government agreed to doing. 

"When the process of recovering the drift is well advanced, the minister will report to Cabinet... on whether any further work to assess the feasibility of re-entering the mine workings should be done," the document states.

Yet Little ruled out main mine entry in March last year - long before reaching the roof fall, when the recovery was less than 25 percent completed.

"I'd like to reassess it all and have a look," Durbridge says.

Pike River Families' spokesperson Bernie Monk says Little has broken his promise. 

"If it's right what he's saying, and these documents say something else, we're getting lied to," he says.

Cloe Nieper's husband Kane was killed at Pike River, leaving her to raise their son Kalani alone.

"I want to be able to tell my son what happened to his dad," she says.

Nieper believes her husband is just beyond the roof fall, in the area known as 'Spaghetti Junction', where the men were waiting at the end of their shift. 

"To have that right in front of us, only metres away to be able to get to them, or get answers, it's just, it's heartbreaking."

It was once considered that getting past the roof collapse was impossible. But new information from the recovery suggests it's around 30m long and consists of coal, not rock. 

Last week, Little told Newshub Nation that changes nothing.

"It's simply not a question of saying it's a short distance away - it is tens and tens of millions of dollars away," he says.

But neither the Pike River Recovery Agency nor the Government know what entering the body of the mine would cost. In a statement, agency CEO Dave Gawn says the only cost assessment was two years ago.

It was "very early, informal, internal and rough", Gawn says. "Whilst $60-100 million had been projected it is very speculative."

Gawn went on to say "there has been no detailed planning," and "nothing specific to limited objectives, such as just 'going through the roof fall'".

Independent geology expert David Bell, who has previously advised WorkSafe and police, believes reaching beyond the rockfall is "feasible".

"There is definitely scope for doing more if it isn't a major impassible rockfall," Bell says. 

Ventilation expert Dr Roy Moreby, who consulted on the families' Technical Advisory Group, says the gas inside the mine is not an issue.

"It's my opinion the PRRA have sufficient information to develop an appropriate... gas management strategy to safely proceed through the fall and further into the mine," Moreby says in a statement. 

For Nieper, she "doesn't understand" why the Government can not analyse the next stage and see how much it will cost.

Newshub Nation asked Little whether he would investigate going further into the mine, however in a statement he says there has been "no change to the mandate" to recover further than the Pike River drift. 

Little has a meeting next week with the Pike River Families Reference Group, who represent some, but not all of the families. 

Durbridge is a member, and he has a message to the minister, urging the Government and Pike River Recovery Agency to take another look.

"If that happened, crikey dick, it'd be phenomenal. I'd be over the moon," he says.