False hope for mine families: father

By Jarrod Booker

Flowers have been placed to commemorate the 29 men who died in the mine. Photo / Photo / Iain McGregor
Flowers have been placed to commemorate the 29 men who died in the mine. Photo / Photo / Iain McGregor

A father who lost his son at Pike River feels families are being given false hope that their loved ones' remains will be recovered as the mine is re-entered for the first time since the 29 workers died.

New Zealand Mines Rescue staff went into the mine yesterday and began building a concrete seal as part of a stabilisation plan by the mine's receivers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, who are seeking to sell the mine.

No one has entered the mine since explosions last November killed 29 men.

Some view the re-entry and stabilisation as the first step to recovering the remains of the workers deep in the mine.

But Dean Dunbar - father of the youngest victim, Joseph Dunbar, 17 - believes the operation will never get as far as reaching his son.

"A lot of the [victims'] families believe that they are going in recovering those bodies," Mr Dunbar told the Herald.

"They're not recovering those bodies. They are getting those robots [stranded in the mine] out and they're prepping the mine for a sale. That's all they are doing."

Statutory mine manager Steve Ellis said progress yesterday exceeded expectations in terms of the amount of materials carried in to build a concrete seal 170m down the mine to prevent combustion.

With favourable conditions, good visibility and a temperature of about 12C in the mine, the rescue workers encountered exactly what they expected.

"The whole plan is that there be no surprises and there hasn't been any," Mr Ellis said.

Mines Rescue general manager Trevor Watts told Newstalk ZB workers will today start construction on the first stage of the temporary seal.

Despite good progress on the first day, Mr Watts say when the operation could be expected to be completed.

"We're taking it day by day. Things could change," he said. "Of course the control of the atmosphere is critical to us."

Mr Watts said the conditions for the workers were safe, but conditions were continually being assessed.
"We are very confident with the controls we have," he said.

The Government is exploring whether the law allows for a clause in the sale of the mine that requires the new owner to try to recover the workers' remains.

Receiver John Fisk, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the first draft of a sale agreement included mention of body recovery "but whether it will be accepted by the purchaser, we haven't crossed that bridge yet".

Mr Fisk said the mine stabilisation work served to get the mine ready for sale and make the first steps towards a possible recovery of remains.

The receivers had an allowance in their budget to fund re-entry into the mine as far as a rockfall about 2.4km in but the workers were beyond that rockfall.

Mr Dunbar said the receivers told him directly they would not be able to sell the mine if there was a clause requiring the new owner to recover the remains.

He believes the receivers and the new owners will say it's too difficult.

"Either way, my son's not coming out."

Mr Dunbar wanted to take his family overseas but didn't want to leave his son behind.

"I'm going to bury my boy one way or another - whether it be inside that mine or out. I'm just unsure on how to go about it at this stage."

Mr Ellis said the concrete seal would be built over the next two days before any decisions on further progress into the mine were made.

"I'm hoping to have everything wrapped up by the end of the week and then we can sit on it and ensure the seal is doing what we want it to do."

Meanwhile, Daniel Rockhouse, one of two workers to survive the mine explosions, has returned to work in underground coal mining - this time in Queensland. His father, Neville Rockhouse, said he was proud to see his son back doing what he loved.

- NZ Herald

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