With the blessing of the farmer across whose land it runs, Pike River mining families have blocked the access road to the mine where 29 men lost their lives in an explosion in 2010. This is a direct challenge to Solid Energy who own the mine and the Govenrment take proactive steps to re-entering the mine one final time to recover their loved ones.
New Zealand First Leader, the Right Honourable Winston Peters, used to work in mines in Australia. He spent two years working in tunnelling underground for the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric power scheme in Australia in some places as much as 11 kilometres underground. Mr Peters said that during the work a man was lost every mile (1.6 kilometres). He was confident that based on the advice Pike River mining families had received it would be possible to re-enter the mine.
Pike River families say that they wish to enter an area of the mine known as the drift. They do not have plans to look further in the mine.
As for whether or not anything is found, the explosions happened in a confined space with a highly combustible gas being present naturally. The force of the explosions and the impact of flying debris on the men’s bodies might well have obliterated them from the outset. Another consideration to take into account is that even if the men were not obliterated outright by the explosion a combination of time and natural decomposition would have reduced the remains to such a state that there might be nothing naturally left of them to find.
But I believe that Pike River families need closure. I believe that there needs to be either by humans or by robots a final attempt to enter the mine and if possible recover the remains. The mine needs to be taken out of Solid Energy control and put in Government hands.
Before the plan proceeds though, it has a number of issues to overcome:
- It needs to be signed off as safe by Work Safety
- It needs to be approved by the Minister for Environment Nick Smith, who whilst saying it is a very difficult project, he would give the families the courtesy of considering the report
- I believe sending a robot down to detect methane gas levels and monitor any fluctuations over say a 24 period is advisable. The robot would also be able to record what it sees to give those controlling any entry attempt an idea of obstacles, hazards and the general state of the mine.
- That the entry into the mine is fair, full and final – fair being access to the drift is guaranteed and not hindered by unnecessary legal obstructions; full being a representative or representatives from each family being allowed into the mine; final being unless there is realistic prospect of recovering the remains, no further entry shall be permitted
Regardless of how it proceeds I wish the families all the best getting their loved ones out. Only they will understand the magnitude of what it means to have what is left of the loved ones back and be able to give them a final dignified – albeit late – send off.