Pike River families 'kept out of the loop'

Bernie Monk (facing camera) says the Prime Minister has been taking advice from the wrong experts. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Bernie Monk (facing camera) says the Prime Minister has been taking advice from the wrong experts. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Families of the 29 Pike River Coal mine victims have asked Police Commissioner Howard Broad to carry on with efforts to retrieve their loved ones' remains.

They have also demanded answers about the police decision to hand over the recovery operation to the mine's receivers.

Families' spokesman Bernie Monk, who lost a son in the disaster, said today they believed Mr Broad and Prime Minister John Key were given the wrong information when they said it was too dangerous to carry on with the body recovery.

Two days ago Mr Broad said the police recovery operation was ending and the mine would be handed over to the receivers with the bodies of the 29 miners and contractors still inside.

Yesterday Mr Key said the recovery operation had failed and experts had told him it was not possible to recover the bodies and that the mine would probably be sealed.

But Mr Monk said he was concerned that the decision had been rushed.

He said the Australian GAG machine had done its job to make the mine safe by reducing the methane gas level and for the last three or four days safety levels had been improving.

"There have been massive improvements up there," he said.

"The guys up there have said to us it is at a safe level. They are not far off actually going in there to get these blokes out."

Yet, Mr Key claimed yesterday that the GAG machine "has blown its guts".

Mr Monk said he believed Mr Key was getting false information from the wrong people.

"I think he has got the wrong experts there in place and that is it in a nutshell."

Mr Monk said the families needed their own gas and mine expert, Harry Bell who had worked on West Coast mines for more than 40 years, to be running the recovery and give police the advice they needed.

He said the families wanted to know from the police who made the decision to abandon the body recovery programme, and where and how they got their information.

"The families have been kept out of the loop on this."

Yesterday Mr Key said they had no other options on the recovery.

"It's not working. That has actually failed and the mine rescue teams from Australia and New Zealand have refused to go into the mine," he said.

Mr Monk said the crucial facts that warranted putting the decision to seal the mine on hold were:

* The mine was understood to now be stable and had been for some days;

* The GAG machine had therefore successfully completed its work;

* The first phase of the recovery operation had been successfully completed and preparations for the second re-entry phrase could now commence.

"These elements appear to have been ignored in the decision taken despite the request to urgently reassess the position," he said. "There seems something seriously flawed in the decision, and a failure to consider or properly evaluate these facts."

Mr Monk said EPMU national secretary Andrew Little was backing the families to the hilt.

- NZPA

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