Pike River families ‘gutted’ by decision to seal coal mine

The decision to end the recovery effort for the bodies inside the Pike River coal mine has left families of the 29 men gutted.

The GAG (Gorniczy Agregat Gasniczy) jet, sent by the Queensland Mine Rescue Service (QMRS), which emits carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapour, starving the mine of oxygen and preventing combustion, has been in use at the mine site, but toxicity levels have remained too high and unpredictable.

Prime Minister John Key says the mine will be sealed, most likely permanently, and there is little chance the bodies will ever be recovered.

He says everything has been done to recover the workers’ remains, but all attempts have unfortunately failed and it is simply too unsafe to enter the mine.

After the initial explosion inside the mine, located on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island, efforts were made to rescue the men and bring them to safety.

Following the second explosion, Police superintendant Gary Knowles announced that the rescue attempt had become a recovery effort for the men who were now assumed dead.

Now, those efforts have also been renounced.

A spokesperson for the relatives, Bernie Monk, says the announcement was sudden and unexpected and has left the families confused and devastated.

“I’m absolutely gutted. I’m gutted for the families” he said.

Monk lost his son inside the mine, and says the families’ lawyer, Nicholas Davidson QC, will attempt to have the decision overturned.

Davidson says vital evidence for the Royal Commission of Inquiry could be loss if they seal the mine.
"We’re concerned, of course, because one would expect that the forensic (information) that could be gained by getting in to the mine will be affected in some way, perhaps significantly, by not having that evidence available," Mr Davidson said.

"That hasn’t figured so far in the reasoning for the decision taken by the government."

The Prime Minister said last week he was unsure what impact sealing the mine would have on the inquiry, which is due to conclude by March 31.

"When you’re going to something of the depth that this inquiry will go in to, you want all the evidence you could possibly get and this would seem to preclude a substantial part of the evidence being available," Davidson said.

"We have had made no progress at all since Friday in unravelling what we see as the mystery of this decision at the moment."

A statement from the families of the deceased miners said the mine was stable and the decision by the government to seal the mine is “flawed and must be revisited.”

Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn says the conclusion is difficult to accept for everyone in the small community.

‘They’ve all given it their best shot but experts are telling them now there’s no point continuing, which is gut-wrenching or us Coasters,” he said.

Options for the mine’s future will be put forward by receivers for Pike River Coal early this week.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad said the mine will be handed back to the receivers, PricewaterhouseCoopesr, who will have until 5pm (3pm AEDT) to make a decision on the future of the colliery.

Meanwhile, the Pike River Contractors and Suppliers Group is pleading for financial help.

The group was formed last year when receivers told members they were unlikely to be paid because they were unsecured creditors.

They say more than 80 of them are owed about $8 million and they have been living with no pay since October.

The group’s chairman, Peter Haddock says many of the contractors are struggling and some businesses will go under if they do not receive assistance.

He wants the Government and the economic agency, Development West Coast, to offer grants or loans to those in need.

A total of 200 people are employed at the companies.

The mayor says he is also still waiting for a response from the Government following his request for a $13 million stimulus package for the area.

Kokshorn said the money would help get the West Coast back on its feet, and some would be used to assist the mine’s contractors and suppliers.

He has called on the Minister of Energy and Resources and Economic Development, Gerry Brownlee, to bring forward plans for other coal mines on the West Coast so the region can retain its workforce.


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