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'This is now very real' - Pike River Mine families welcome retrieval of 20-tonne loader

Family members who lost loved ones in the Pike River Mine disaster have welcomed the retrieval of a 20-tonne loader from the mine.

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It’s the first major piece of evidence in the police investigation, 1 NEWS’ Lisa Davies reports. Source: 1 NEWS

According to a statement from Stand with Pike, an organisation representing Pike River families, Russell Smith was driving the loader when the mine exploded and was one of two men to escape with their lives.

He says the investigation is becoming very real. “The loader is like the door to the vault, everything beyond it is unseen and holds new evidence. After all this time we are finally getting the chance to hold someone to account for killing the guys I worked with.”

The Government's Pike Recovery Agency says the recovery of the loader went smoothly and to plan.

Loader recovered from Pike River Mine. Source: Supplied

“We reached the loader at the end of last week, and then conducted a very deliberate and exacting forensic examination of the vehicle and operational zone, led from the surface by our NZ Police investigation team," chief operations officer Dinghy Pattinson says.

"After that we were ready to hook it up using another loader and tow it down the drift to the portal and then to a covered area near the mine’s administration buildings for storage and further examination." 

The agency says, while nearly 1600 metres of the 2300 drift has now been recovered, there is still around 600 metres of roadway in the Pit Bottom in Stone area that will also need to be explored and examined when that area is reached.

Loader recovered from Pike River Mine in early August, 2020. Source: Supplied

“That’s the next big area of interest for us. Things have been progressing very well, and we’re hopeful that we might reach Pit Bottom in Stone by the end of August, however there are a lot of unknowns between then and now,” Mr Pattinson says.

Families of the Pike 29 were on site to witness the loader being recovered.

Loader recovered from Pike River Mine. Source: Supplied

“While other family members and I waited in the families room for hours for the loader to come out I felt like I was taken back to the day we all sat in that godforsaken mine office waiting for our boys to come out, but they never did and nobody ever answered for that.

“It finally feels like we might be able to get some truth,” Pike River widow Anna Osborne says.

Police have taken possession of the loader and it will be retained as part of the ongoing investigation.