Families of Pike River miners taking matters into their own hands to make future re-entry efforts possible

The family of the 29 men that died at Pike River Mine want the Government to reconsider its decision to stop funding any further re-entry efforts.

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The families met with Minister Andrew Little last night to discuss the option of trying to recover evidence from the mine's main ventilation fan. Source: 1 NEWS

Just last week, the Government announced there would be no more money to extend the operation, and the Family Reference Group said it accepted the decision.

But last night, the group met with 17 families, and the minister responsible for Pike River re-entry, Andrew Little.

Twenty-three of the 29 families indicated they are not yet ready to walk away, with only two wanting the mine closed.

Electrical engineer Richard Healey says last week’s message that the families accepted the end of the re-entry was wrong.

“It must be confusing for anyone watching this to try and get your head around how it could be that a week ago New Zealand was being told the families are happy this is all over or at least the vast majority of the families and I’d suggest last night’s result really says that the statements that were made last week were not accurate or representative of the feelings of the families.”

The Pike River Families Group Committee says some only want to assess the costs and risks of reaching the other side of the roof fall where teams are currently, while others want to push further into the mine.

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The families of the 29 men that died at Pike River Mine want the government to reconsider it’s decision to stop funding any further re-entry efforts. Source: 1 NEWS

The Government has refused to do both, so the families have taken matters into their own hands.

The Families Group has decided to self-fund an independent feasibility study to get a report to present to the Government, in the hope that it will consider possible re-entry options.  

“We do not want to see anyone else harmed or killed in the further recovery of this mine and that's why we've got together a team of extremely credible extremely well qualified international experts to a study which will give us some understanding about whether this can be done safely and effectively,” Healey said.

“Our goal is to provide the government with a report that gives them confidence that actually this isn’t simple, but it is absolutely straight forward.

“For every problem, there is a well-tried mining engineering solution and this can be done with complete safety economically, in stages and we will be successful in recovering the information that allows successful prosecution of the guilty parties”

There’s hope the Government will at least consider examining the main fan, which is only meters from where recovery teams are currently.

“We believe that the most likely place for that first explosion to be centred is at the main fan, an object that we're about 30 or 40 metres from at the moment,” Healey said.

Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael in the disaster, says this is a critical phase of the investigation.

“I feel sorry for the police here that the Government aren’t doing this, because they need that evidence going forward."

Families are taking their own action, as they feel let down by the Government.

”New Zealanders, we never break promises, and here we have a Government that's doing that and it's a disgusting way of treating and it’s disrespectful towards the families that they're going to do this,” Monk said.

Following the meeting with Little last night, many feel let down.

“Last night the minister made it very clear that this is simply a question of money, so he backed far away from his original statements around technical feasibility, there was no mention of the sufficiency of the evidence, no questions about whether or not the police had in fact gathered enough data yet to achieve a prosecution, all of that was gone and he made it very clear to the room that this was simply about money,” Healey said.

“When it became clear to the room, I think the reaction was pretty simple, pretty straight forward, and could be summed up in one word, disgust.

“For these families who have been fighting this battle for 10 years I could absolutely understand why they’re now standing there listening to the minister saying it's just about the dollars, why they would be disgusted about the breach of trust that went on last night in that room.

“The country has invested $50 million to get this far, it’s insanity to waste that investment now by stopping at the last hurdle”

Today, Little said commitment from the Government has always been the safe recovery of the Pike River Mine drift.

“We have delivered on that commitment and forensic examination of the drift continues- it is not simply “a matter of metres” he said.

“The Agency have advised me that proceeding beyond the roof fall would be technically difficult and would dramatically alter the risk profile of recovery operations.

“It is possible to obtain relevant evidence by other means, which is what the police are doing by drilling additional boreholes and scanning the relevant area”

Little says it’s unclear what the proposed feasibility study would be, but the government’s commitment has not changed, and the focus is on the ongoing forensic examination of the drift.

The families are committed to the study, and work has already started by mining ventilation experts in the UK, but they say time is ticking.

“We need to get this out very rapidly because the government is moving very rapidly to do exactly what the National government proposed to do and concrete up the entrance of this mine for all time,” Healey said.

“We will have to get this out perhaps in the next month in order for that to be effective to be in place before the mine is closed forever.

“That's the other aspect of this - we don't get a second shot, no matter what evidence appears now between now and the mine getting closed, this is it, once that mine is closed, the evidence of pike river is no longer available to anyone “