Govt denies Pike River cover-up

By Hayden Donnell

Bernie Monk embraces a supporter after a  memorial service for his son Michael. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Bernie Monk embraces a supporter after a memorial service for his son Michael. Photo / Herald on Sunday

The father of a miner who died at Pike River has accused police and the Government of withholding information that shows bodies may be recovered intact from the explosion-hit coal mine.

But Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee says no information is being withheld and multiple mining experts have said Pike River is not safe to enter.

He is calling on anyone who has information to say a recovery could take place to come forward.

Bernie Monk, father of lost miner Michael Monk, says a source in the recovery team has told families the explosions that hit the mine in November may not have been as big as first thought.

He claims authorities decided not to permanently seal the mine after finding out families had a source stationed there.

"I think the police and the Government changed their minds after finding out we know what's happening at the mine.

"I don't think anyone's been honest with us up till now. Liaison between police and families on the official side of it has been nil."

If the explosions which hit the mine were not as big as first thought, bodies could still be recovered despite a coal fire that burned through December, Mr Monk says.

He is volunteering to go into the mine himself if it means recovering the body of his son.

"If they want someone to go in - I'll go in.

"Then when the coroner comes we can say on our death certificates how these people actually died.

"We know the mine's in a stable position. We know the gas levels are safe enough to go in. The biggest thing now is covering the safety aspects."

Mr Brownlee says despite those stable gas readings, the atmosphere in the mine is still not safe to breathe and could change rapidly

Video footage from the mine entrance show the explosions at Pike River were "massive", he says.

"There's a difference between the atmosphere being stable and the mine being stable for re-entry.

"One thing that does stick in the back of my head is being told the atmosphere in the mine had reached a stable point. Within 20 minutes of experiencing that elated feeling we were given the news there had been a second massive explosion at the mine."

He is calling on the person informing Mr Monk to come forward and give information publically.

"I'm sitting here thinking how would I feel if I was one of those families - it's devastating. No-one has come to this conclusion that the recovery operation should stop lightly.

"If there is information being withheld then whoever that person is should come forward and front up."

Receivers have told the families the Pike River mine is to be temporarily sealed and it is unlikely a recovery operation will be carried out.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers head receiver John Fisk said it could be two years before the mine could be re-entered - and even then it would require "considerable additional analysis".

Police have said they are abandoning their recovery operation at Pike River.

But Mr Monk says he will not give up the fight to recover the remains of the twenty-nine miners still inside.

"I'm going to fight my guts out to make sure they don't seal that mine until all avenues are considered."

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