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Pike River survivor Daniel Rockhouse returns to the coalface

Two kilometres is a long way underground.

I hadn’t contemplated just how far we would travel, until I was strapped into a cart, hurtling into the depths of a coal mine.

It was no ordinary day at work – but then again, this was no ordinary story.

Alongside me in the vehicle was SUNDAY producer Steve Butler and cameraman Martin Anderson. We were trying to track down a Kiwi hero – Daniel Rockhouse.

Daniel survived the Pike River explosion in November 2010. Now, incredibly, he is working in a coal mine once again; this time, in Queensland, Australia.

We tracked Daniel down, and he agreed to tell SUNDAY his incredible story – and explain why he was heading back to the coalface.

As the minutes wore on, our crew travelled deeper and deeper into the mine, hoping to find Daniel somewhere in its depths.

Giant slabs of stone flashed past us. Horns echoed through the cavernous labyrinth of tunnels. And the only light bouncing off the walls came from our head torches.

I looked over my shoulder and saw a spec of daylight – back at the entrance to the main tunnel – getting smaller and smaller.

I wondered, was this my very last SUNDAY assignment?

Would I have any chance of escaping if the roof caved in?

And would our footage ever see the light of day?

Steve Butler had turned white. He’d been responsible for the rigorous health and safety paperwork we filed before travelling to Australia.

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He survived the disaster that took the life of his brother, now he’s back underground in Queensland. Source: Sunday

Martin Anderson clutched his camera for dear life, precariously balancing it on his knee as he bounced around in the back seat – struggling for a steady shot.

For us, this trip was a terrifying, exhilarating novelty.

For Daniel Rockhouse, it’s the norm. Seven days on, seven days off. Twelve hour shifts. Hot; sweaty; covered in coal dust.

As he knows better than anyone else – it's a potentially deadly occupation.

But Daniel's motivation comes from a deep place.

Being underground makes him feel connected to his brother Ben Rockhouse, who died - along with 28 others - at Pike River.

The tragedy is back in the spotlight, as our Government prepares to re-enter the mine from 3 May.

For Daniel, it's a chance to try and find out what happened to Ben at Pike River.

"Part of me is still down there," he told me.

"Still down the mine?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said softly.