Protest at Pike River mine urges sealing to be called off

Flames burn from a ventilation shaft above the Pike River mine which fatally trapped 29 miners and contractors in 2010.
Flames burn from a ventilation shaft above the Pike River mine which fatally trapped 29 miners and contractors in 2010.

Family and friends of the Pike River 29 are protesting at the gates near the ill-fated West Coast mine in one desperate, final attempt to stop it from being sealed.

Widows Anna Osborne, who is fighting blood cancer, and Sonya Rockhouse are among the group calling for the mine not to be sealed in the hope evidence of a loved one could one day still be recovered.

Sat with others on the road to the mine and refusing to move, Osborne says the Pike families accept the main workings of the mine are still too dangerous too re-enter but a previously unexplored area before it - known as "the drift" - needs to be looked at.

"It's a last-ditch effort to try and stop the seal going in, mainly because there's still unexplored ground in the drift, there's the possibility of someone's loved-one being in there," Osborne said.

Next Saturday is the sixth anniversary of the Pike River disaster. Osborne, whose husband Milton was one of the Pike River 29, says the blockade is their last option.

"If they want to seal our boys in that mine they'll have to run us down to do it.

"The first couple of kilometres of mine is safe to enter. Both the former head of WorkSafe's mine inspectors and the three international experts we've consulted have agreed on that.

"The bodies of our boys - my husband, Sonya's son - could be in that safe stretch of mine. There could be evidence showing what happened in there, which we still don't have clear answers on. Why would you lock that off with hundreds of tonnes of concrete?"

The family members and their supporters have set up a caravan and camp on the road to block any vehicles attempting to enter the mine site.

Anna Osborne, left, and Sonya Rockhouse during their silent vigil, to mark the second reading of the Government's Health and Safety Reform Bill, outside Parliament in 2015. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Anna Osborne, left, and Sonya Rockhouse during their silent vigil, to mark the second reading of the Government's Health and Safety Reform Bill, outside Parliament in 2015. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"John Key told us he'd get our boys out," Rockhouse said. "Now the company his government owns is planning to seal the mine and seal our hope off with it.

"It's wrong and we're not going to let it happen."

Pike families' spokesman Bernie Monk, whose son Michael was one of 29 and spoke at the protest, says he believes the drift is safe to enter.

"We've already done a stage of re-entry to the mine, we've gone 170m," Monk said. "I was there with Minister [Maggie] Barry (Monk's cousin) a few weeks ago. I was flabbergasted people were working in and out of that 170m chain without safety gear."

The offices of the Prime Minister John Key and Minister Barry directed questioning to Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse, who denied re-entry is safe.

"I am advised that WorkSafe has no evidence that conditions at the drift of Pike River Mine are safe enough to explore a previously investigated stretch of the drift," Woodhouse said.

WorkSafe chief executive Gordon MacDonald also rejected Monk's claim.

"There is no evidence that conditions beyond the temporary seal at 170m have changed. Methane levels past that seal remain at 98 per cent and therefore it remains unsafe," he said.

Two years ago the mine's owners Solid Energy ruled out re-entry for safety. Chief executive Tony King said nothing has changed.

"This is not correct. The environment has not materially changed since the decision to not re-enter the drift in 2014," Kind said. "Without seals in place the risk of fires and explosions is high."

- Herald on Sunday

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