False hope for Pike River families

The sister of one of the Pike River mine victims has questioned why the families were given hope of a rescue following the first explosion, after an inquest yesterday found they would have died within minutes.

Judge Neil MacLean announced during the inquest yesterday that the 29 men would have died at the time of the initial explosion, or a “very short time thereafter.”

“It’s also clear that the cause of death, although it may well vary in degree between individuals depending on their location, was the result of a substantial explosion,” he said.

He went on to say death was also due to exposure to acute hypoxia.

The medical opinion of Dr Robin Griffiths from Otago University told police the miners would not have survived long after the explosion inside the mine on 29 November.

 "In my professional opinion the miners would have become unconscious as a result of hypoxic hypoxia almost immediately [after] the explosion occurred.

They would have remained unconscious until death supervened three to five minutes later."

But Jo Palmer, who lost her brother Brendan inside the mine, says the family were given real hope after the first explosion that the workers might still be brought out alive.

This came after the dramatic rescue of mine 33 mine workers in San Jose, Chile, in September.

Families were told they could expect a similar situation at Pike River, until the second explosion five days later ruled out any chance of survivors. 

"They could have said [there was no hope] at the first family meeting, and people could have started grieving then," Palmer said.

"You kind of feel like an idiot. Now it just seems like ‘who can you trust?”’

Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall denies the families were given false hope for a rescue.
“Hope is what it is at the time,” he said.

Whittall warned against criticism following the handling of the unexpected tragedy.

“You can analyse something in hindsight. I think at the time – certainly I can speak personally – I genuinely believed then, and haven’t changed my view, that there was an opportunity to give hope to the fact that they might have survived the first blast, that that could be holed up somewhere in the mine.
Certainly the second blast put paid to that.”

Spokesman for the families, Bernie Monk, did not comment on whether they were given false hope, and the families lawyer is expected to address the issue at a later stage.

Monk lost his 23-year-old son Michael in the tragedy, and said although they were prepared for yesterday’s findings at the inquest, it was still difficult to hear.

“A lot of us cried, and I’m still crying on the inside,” he said following the inquest.

“But we’ll handle it. It’s part of the healing and we’ll move on.”

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