Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday.

New Pike River tragedy doco is too hard to watch for some grieving families

Neville Rockhouse, seen here in 2014 with grandson Ryah looking at a photo book of son Ben's life, says the documentary will be too painful to watch.. Photo / Martin Hunter
Neville Rockhouse, seen here in 2014 with grandson Ryah looking at a photo book of son Ben's life, says the documentary will be too painful to watch.. Photo / Martin Hunter

The former Pike River safety manager who lost one son in the mine explosion tragedy - and whose father died just hours after hearing the news - says tuning in to watch a new tele-doco will be too traumatic.

Meanwhile, the father of the youngest victim, 17-year-old Joseph Dunbar, says the production doesn't touch on some of the key aspects of the tragedy.

The drama-documentary Pike River will have a media screening in Auckland tomorrow before it is premiered on Prime towards the end of the month.

Neville Rockhouse was Pike River's safety manager at the time of the tragedy. He said watching the programme would be too distressing.

"While I was interviewed for the doco, my wife Tracy and I did not accept the offer of a private screening, nor are we planning to watch it on TV," he told the Herald on Sunday.

The Pike River mining tragedy robbed Rockhouse of his much-loved youngest son, Ben, while his other son, Daniel, was lucky to escape with his life after the West Coast mine exploded on the afternoon of November 19, 2010.

Just hours after the disaster - which killed 29 miners and contractors - Rockhouse's father, Ray, died of a heart attack.

"My son Daniel saw the doco and said it was pretty good but we just don't really want to revisit the day," Rockhouse said. "We lived through it and that was traumatic enough ... I lost my son and my father on the same day."

Pike River is directed by Rupert MacKenzie for Screentime productions and stars Kiwi actors Mark Mitchinson, Xavier Horan and Roy Billing.

Set amid the drama of the five days between the three explosions at the mine, the programme reveals a tragic back story, where pressure for profits would eventually contribute to the deaths of the men.

It features interviews with the Pike River families and scripted drama to depict key events, and was made with almost $1 million in funding from NZ On Air's Platinum Fund.

Dean Dunbar's son Joseph was killed the day after his 17th birthday. Like others, he remains frustrated the bodies of the stricken men have never been recovered.

The mine has been deemed too dangerous and attempts to bring the men home were abandoned.

Flames leap from the ventilation shaft at the Pike River Mine in the Paparoa Range 46 kilomentres from Greymouth, West Coast. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Flames leap from the ventilation shaft at the Pike River Mine in the Paparoa Range 46 kilomentres from Greymouth, West Coast. File photo / Mark Mitchell

A line was permanently drawn under recovery efforts last year, with the news the mine will be handed over to the Department of Conservation, and the Paparoa National Park between Greymouth and Westport will also be expanded by nearly 4000ha to include the mass grave.

Dunbar said he had already attended a private screening in Christchurch but would not be going to tomorrow's event in Auckland, which will feature a question and answer session from Bernie Monk, spokesman for the families.

Monk lost his son Michael in the tragedy, and earlier this year he was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for his work to make New Zealand safer following the Pike River tragedy.

"I thought it was a bit disappointing there is nothing in the documentary about why drift recovery became an impossibility, as that is one of the most important issues in this whole scenario," Dunbar said.

"I also really wish it had gone into the police investigation into the tragedy, or rather the lack of one."

- NZ Herald

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