Miners' families look to inquiry for answers

By Jarrod Booker

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.

It hasn't been much of a holiday season for grieving families of the 29 men killed in the Pike River mine.

But the new year is bringing fresh hope of getting some closure, and answers, for the West Coasters.

Bernie Monk, whose son Michael, 23, was among the dead, told the Herald any hopes of retrieving the remains of the workers - after a series of explosions in the West Coast coal mine since November - were diminishing by the day.

For his family and others, attention is now turning to the royal commission of inquiry into the tragedy, and what it will uncover. They are adamant the whole inquiry must be held on the West Coast, so the families can take a full part.

"The truth will come out of what's happened here," said Mr Monk, a spokesman for the grieving relatives.

A coroner's inquest is due to begin, in Greymouth, on January 27.

Since Boxing Day, the families and their lawyers have been doing interviews and pulling together information for the royal commission.

On Christmas Day, about 50 relatives of the men who died travelled to the mine.

"There was a lot of tears shed, as you can imagine," Mr Monk said.

"But what a peaceful place it was, such beauty. We got right up to the mouth of the mine itself and we had a small service therein conjunction with the chaplain from the police.

"Then we came home, and to be honest with you, it just didn't feel like Christmas. And it just doesn't feel like New Year to me. It's just another day. There's a real hole in our hearts.

"There are some people, right up to a week before Christmas, [who] hadn't accepted that their loved ones were not going to come back. It's affected people so dramatically in different ways."

Lawrie Drew, who lost his son Zen, 21, in the mine, said things had not got any easier with time.

"Some days you feel good, other days it just hits you like a tonne of bricks and you just can't stop crying."

There was growing anger at how long it was taking to get the bodies out of the mine.

Mr Monk said the latest the families had heard was that efforts were concentrated on sealing up cracks in the mine, so machinery for neutralising the explosive atmosphere could be more effective.

Pike River Coal receivers have drawn up a plan to recover the remains of the 29 men, and that is under consideration by independent experts.

Police were not available to discuss body recovery efforts, but have said the mine may have to be sealed with the miners still inside.

- NZ Herald

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