Mine families cling to hope

By Staff Reporters

Waiting families gather outside the support centre in Greymouth. Photo / Doug Sherring
Waiting families gather outside the support centre in Greymouth. Photo / Doug Sherring

The heroes who were poised, waiting for the green light that never came to enter the Pike River mine, were not your usual rescue workers.

They were fathers, brothers, sons, desperate to save loved ones.

The West Coast mining disaster that left 29 still trapped yesterday tore apart families who have worked in the dangerous shafts for generations.

The Rockhouse family suffered worse than most.

It was Dan, 24, who raised the alarm Friday after he was blown off his digger in the explosion.

His youngest brother, Ben, was stranded in the mine.

While Dan was being treated in hospital for moderate injuries from the blast, his grandfather "Rocky" died of a heart attack.

Dan and Ben's father Neville, is the safety & training manager at Pike River Coal.

In a foreboding Facebook post Ben wrote: "I'm sick and tired of being so f***ing accident prone. Can't go a day without hurting myself or a month without almost dieing [sic]."

Second generation miner Brendon Palmer was walking into the 2.5km-deep tunnel when he passed his father Marty Palmer, who had just finished a shift at 8am on Friday morning.

Marty mentioned he had reported gas problems when he finished his shift.

In a glimmer of hope, Christchurch resident Joel Dixon told how his trapped father had tried to call family from the mine after the explosion.

Alan Dixon, 60, is one of the oldest of the 29 miners caught up in the disaster. He made the call to his partner in Runanga just after the blast.

Joel Dixon said: "He called her from the phone in the mine after the explosion. It was quite fuzzy," he said.

He said his father had worked in mines "all his life" and was well trained in emergency procedures: "Even as a little kid I remember what the staff had to do for safety - we're just waiting. It's stressful."

The family of a local body politician stuck in the mine was anxiously awaiting news, with his wife standing vigil.

Grey District councillor Milton Osborne is also one of the trapped miners and the family is fearing the worst.

His son, Robin, said the first the family learned of the drama was when his father's boss rang to notify them.

The family was getting a lot of great support, but was growing tired of approaches from "nosy people", he said.

"We are just sitting waiting by the phone. That's it. Just waiting for the phone call - yes or no."

Shockwaves from the unfolding tragedy were felt across the world. Trapped Scottish miner Malcolm Campbell is due to marry his Kiwi fiancee Amanda - a manager at Revington's Hotel in Greymouth - on December 18.

- Herald on Sunday

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