'It still isn't right' - Pike River families still raw 10 years on from deadly mine disaster

The families of Pike River mine victims are still hurting from the disaster, which was ten years ago today.

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Sonya Rockhouse and Anna Osborne are hoping the current re-entry plans will give them closure. Source: Breakfast

A methane explosion occurred in the West Coast mine at 3.44pm on November 19, 2010, with 31 miners and contractors inside at the time.

Two men were able to walk out of the mine with moderate injuries, but the remaining 29 have never been recovered.

Subsequent explosions took place in the mine on November 24, 26 and 28.

Prime Minister at the time Sir John Key made assurances to the families that the government was "committed to getting the boys out", but in 2014 mine owner Solid Energy abandoned recovery efforts, saying the risks were too high, and the Government accepted that.

However, in 2017 the new Labour coalition once again pledged to "safely re-enter, fully recover, make safe and comprehensively investigate the Pike River mine drift".

The Pike River Recovery Agency was established, headed up by Minister Andrew Little, and the effort has made steady progress since then, re-entering the mine last year in May, and proceeding further into the mine to forensically examine it this year.

Hopes closure is near for families of Pike River victims as recovery crews make progress in mine

Speaking this morning to John Campbell on Breakfast, Sonya Rockhouse, who lost her son Ben in the explosion, said she still remembers the days following the disaster.

"I remember in the first couple of days, they had a whiteboard and they would come up every day and they would write the gas levels on the whiteboard," she said.

"I remember thinking what the hell are we waiting for? It was frustrating, it was very, very frustrating, because it just seemed like nobody was doing anything - just waiting."

Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died, said she remembers feeling like there was hope that re-entry would take place within the days following the disaster.

"We were thinking any day now the oxygen and the methane levels are going to be right in the mine there and they were actually going to announce they were going in," Osborne said.

"When they did announce they were going in, Peter Whittall turned around and said 'well, mines rescue donned their gear today ready to go down the drift', and most of us clapped, thinking yay, this is fantastic, then the police came in - and they said listen, there's been a second explosion and no one would have survived."

"It was a raging inferno," Rockhouse said, "it was catastrophic, and a raging inferno, and no one would have survived."

"I thought oh my god, I buried my head, and I just thought oh my God, I can't believe it."

Both women said being told the mine would be re-entered before then being told a second explosion had occurred was "cruel".

When the announcement was made in 2014 that the mine would be sealed, and a memorial track for the disaster would be created instead of re-entering, Osborne and Rockhouse were unwilling to accept that.

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The 55km walk is described as a living tribute to the Pike 29 – the men killed in the mine explosion nine years ago. Source: 1 NEWS

"When the Government decided to give the Pike families a track, that's where Sonya and I came in and thought well we don't want to accept a track - we want my husband, Sonya's son and all those loved ones to at least have a chance to be recovered.

"If we can't get body remains, what about the evidence under there?

"So there was no way we were going to let them seal the portal, because that was going to put a coffin lid on our men."

They, and other family members of victims, then took to blocking the access road to the mine to prevent it being sealed up by Solid Energy, and occupied the road for 107 days.

Osborne said the progress on re-entering the mine this year was "exciting".

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After an explosion at the West Coast mine on 19 November 2010, the bodies of 29 men remain in the mine. Source: 1 NEWS

"There's evidence to be gathered from there, hopefully some body remains and they're doing it slow, slowly, slowly because they have to - it has to be done correctly.

"We want this investigation to be the best that it can be - we want to make sure they get significant finds and they get a lot of evidence.

"We want to make sure that people are held to account for the death of our loved men, because they lost their voice ten years ago, and Sonya and I are using ours.

"We need this, we need justice, accountability and most of all truth - we want the truth of what happened that day, because we haven't been told that yet."

Rockhouse said there has to be something that comes out of this tragedy.

"That something has got to be making sure that no other family has to suffer the pain and loss that we've had to feel."