New hope for Pike River families

The relatives of the 29 men who were killed inside the Pike River coal mine last year say they are excited by the new decision not to immediately seal the mine.

The mine’s receiver, PricewaterCoopers, says efforts to stabilise the mine will continue for another five to eight weeks.

The decision on the mine’s future was handed back to the receivers yesterday, and the decision to abandon efforts to retrieve the bodies of the entombed miners had left the families “gutted”.



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Bernie Monk, the spokesman for the families, says the announcement has provided hope for relatives.

"It’s given us a breathing space to get down there and find out how safe the mine is so we can get rescue teams down there to get our loved ones out," he said.

But according to documents released by police, a panel of mining experts advised that even a stable mine would not be safe enough to allow for a full recovery operation.

PricewaterCoopers say even if the mine is stabilised, it is unlikely they will ever recover the men.

Head receiver John Fisk said it could be two years before the mine could be re-entered – and even then it would require "considerable additional analysis".

Monk says he is willing to accept that there may be nothing recovery workers can do.

"When they come back down and say ‘Bernie we can’t do any more’, I’ll be the first one up there with a shovel to seal it up," he said.

Monk has accused police and the Government of withholding information showing that the bodies inside the mine could be recovered intact.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee has denied any information is being withheld and says they have not entered Pike River because multiple mining experts have said it is unsafe.

Monk, who lost his son inside the mine, says a source in the recovery team has told the families that explosions in the mine may not have been as big as originally thought.

He says the decision not to permanently seal the mine came after authorities found out the families has a source stationed there.

"I think the police and the Government changed their minds after finding out we know what’s happening at the mine,” he said.

"I don’t think anyone’s been honest with us up till now. Liaison between police and families on the official side of it has been nil."

If the explosions which hit the mine were not as big as first thought, bodies could still be recovered despite a coal fire that burned through December.”

He says he will go into the mine himself to retrieve the body of his son.

"If they want someone to go in – I’ll go in.

"Then when the coroner comes we can say on our death certificates how these people actually died.

"We know the mine’s in a stable position. We know the gas levels are safe enough to go in. The biggest thing now is covering the safety aspects."

The Energy Minister says despite those stable gas readings, the atmosphere in the mine is still not safe to breathe and could change rapidly

Video footage from the mine entrance show the explosions at Pike River were "massive", he says.

"There’s a difference between the atmosphere being stable and the mine being stable for re-entry,” Brownlee said.

"One thing that does stick in the back of my head is being told the atmosphere in the mine had reached a stable point. Within 20 minutes of experiencing that elated feeling we were given the news there had been a second massive explosion at the mine."

He says the person informing Monk should come forward and make his information public.

"I’m sitting here thinking how would I feel if I was one of those families – it’s devastating. No-one has come to this conclusion that the recovery operation should stop lightly.

"If there is information being withheld then whoever that person is should come forward and front up."
Monk says he will continue to push for the remains of the miners to be recovered.

"I’m going to fight my guts out to make sure they don’t seal that mine until all avenues are considered."

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