I sympathise with the families of the men lost in the Pike River Mine disaster of November 2010.
The New Zealand Government has since then maintained the stance that the ‘Pike River Mine is not to be entered’, on the grounds that to do so would place in peril the lives of a potential recovery team…
A recent video witnessed by a number of the families involved – past footage of several men inside the mine entrance tending to a robot designed to more deeply explore the mineshaft – has caused uproar among this bereaved mining community, implicitly delivering the understanding that the mineshaft in question is, and perhaps always was, quite able to be entered.
…Following the initial explosion on that fateful day – resulting in the deaths of all 29 men inside – along with the succession of explosions throughout the ensuing months, geotechnical engineers deemed that due to the dangerously high concentration of methane gas the air quality inside the mine was of an ‘unsafe standard’, and seemingly that is unchanged today…
The families of the lost miners ultimately want the ‘bodies’ of their loved ones returned to them, and this recent footage has sparked new debate over the legitimacy of claims the mine is ‘not safe to enter’.
…For the first few months after the Pike River Mine explosions the decision to delay mine re-entry was understandably undisputed, and it wasn’t until many more uneventful months had passed that the families of those lost began to push in earnest for a recovery expedition…
Despite the video the Government’s position remains firm: air quality inside the mineshaft makes it unsafe for people to enter.
…Almost seven years after the fact, having seen no attempt at recovery of the men’s remains and with none in the forecast, for it to then transpire that there have in fact been souls inside the mine, with all their living and their breathing, must inspire if nothing else, a great deal of uncertainty…
The families are vehement in their opinions they should have been told about the existence of this, supposedly secret, mineshaft footage; Prime Minister Bill English is similarly adamant in his response, “The footage is no secret and of most, or all of it, you actually were.”
…The families deny the Government’s claim that ‘they were made aware of these videos some years ago but maybe they just forgot about it’, and have renewed their efforts to ‘see justice done’…
The families have since reiterated their demands that the ‘bodies’ of their loved ones be retrieved from the mine.
…PM English is standing his ground, undoubtedly maintaining a philosophy something akin to, ‘Regarding the recovery of any human remains in the mineshaft, so long as a geotechnical team inform me there is so much as the slightest modicum of risk to life inside that mineshaft, there shall be no re-entry – the families affected by this terrible tragedy have already lost their sons and their husbands to that mine, how do you think they’d feel if the names of more men joined the list of the dead, particularly while they were involved in the task of trying to gather the remains of those dead?’
Interestingly: ‘Goodwill and compassion notwithstanding a nation’s governing body is under no obligation to share with its public documents or footage that it deems to be sensitive or private unless it pertains directly to the lives of those involved.’
Regardless, and as much as I do sympathise with the families’ plight, the lives of the 29 deceased miners will be eternally remembered in New Zealand history and – as was more or less forecast in a statement by the mine’s owner, Solid Energy, in the months following the tragedy, in 2011 – the remains of those lost are likely to forever be entombed inside the Pike River Mine, which will become, solely, a burial site.
Given the circumstances, is that such an awful outcome?
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Fawl N Minors
Photography by Wrest N Peece