Day of truth for Pike River families

By Abby Gillies, Isaac Davison

Flames flared up a shaft above the pit after the miners were trapped. The tragedy left family and friends shattered. Photo / NZPA
Flames flared up a shaft above the pit after the miners were trapped. The tragedy left family and friends shattered. Photo / NZPA

An anxious wait for the families of the 29 men killed in the Pike River mining disaster will end today when the royal commission's report on the tragedy is released.

The report on what caused the explosions at the West Coast mine in November 2010 and what should be done to prevent similar tragedies in future will be presented to the families in Greymouth this afternoon by Government ministers Gerry Brownlee and Christopher Finlayson.

Above all else, it was hoped the report would bring the families some closure, mine families' spokesman Bernie Monk said.

"They only want the truth to come out and they know the truth before it even comes out and they'll be upset if they [the commission] don't cover what they know in their hearts happened down there. They are expecting pretty hard-hitting commission results coming out."

He and the families were waiting anxiously to see what would be covered, he said.

Fifty-one witnesses gave evidence over 11 weeks to the hearings in Greymouth.

"It's been an exhausting wait for the families," Mr Monk said. "Hopefully it will give them a lot of closure on where things are at because I don't think people realise what we've been through over the last nearly two years."

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While the report closed one chapter, it also signalled a new beginning, as the families started to focus on getting changes in the industry that would improve health and safety, he said.

"That's going to be a legacy that the families want to be left for their men that are underground."

Among the changes the families wanted were having check inspectors back underground in mines and possibly unions having more say about safety regulations. The report coincides with the arrival in Greymouth of a team of mining experts organised by the families.

Dr David Creedy and Bob Stevenson from Britain and Dave Feickert from Wanganui will spend five days in the town to go through the commission's finding and review a plan to recover the bodies of the 29 miners still underground.

Mr Feickert hoped the evidence in the commission's report would help with the plan by providing detail about risks such as the extent of the rockfall inside the tunnel.

He expected the report to mark a watershed in workplace safety generally in New Zealand, not just for coal mining.

"You can see that the Government is sending two senior ministers to discuss the report's findings with the families - that is a sure sign that the report is a very, very serious one."

Mr Feickert, who advised the Chinese Government on mining safety, said it was crucial that a well-resourced, independent mines inspectorate was re-established in New Zealand.

"We need a proper inspectorate for high-risk industries. If we'd had that, we wouldn't have had Pike River, in my view."

A new mining watchdog would include check inspectors, who could report back on the safety standards in mines.

"There has to be a communicator from within the workforce, someone with special powers that works in partnership with the other parties."

Since the disaster, the Government has created a high hazards unit and begun a review of occupational health and safety.

The numbers

29 miners killed
11 weeks of royal commission hearings
51 witnesses
23 months after the Pike River commission was appointed, the findings are being made public
$12,500 awarded to each of the Pike River Mine families and the miners' union for court costs

- NZ Herald

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