Pike River 'haunts me every day'

By Hayden Donnell

Bernie Monk, whose son Michael Monk was killed in the Pike River mine explosion, says he still wakes up every morning thinking about the disaster. Photo / Simon Baker
Bernie Monk, whose son Michael Monk was killed in the Pike River mine explosion, says he still wakes up every morning thinking about the disaster. Photo / Simon Baker

The stoic spokesman for the families of the Pike River dead cannot stop grieving for the son he lost a year ago today.

Bernie Monk, whose son Michael Monk was killed by an explosion as he worked in the West Coast coal mine, still wakes up every morning thinking about the disaster.

Today he will ascend to the mine site, knowing the bodies of his son and 28 other men are nearby and still out of reach for rescuers.

For the man who has acted as the public face of the families of the 29 men who died at Pike River, it will be a "gutwrenching" time.

"I will be within two kilometres of him. That's going to be the hardest thing.

"Nothing's changed. These men had no way of getting out of the mine. It haunts me every day. The struggle gets worse."

The Pike River mine exploded on November 19 last year, killing 29 men and sparking a massive and ultimately fruitless rescue effort.

Services will today be held around Greymouth to mark the anniversary, with families also holding their own memorials at the mine site and in private.

Mr Monk said marking the day was important to honour those who had supported the families.

But they would continue to grieve in limbo until the bodies still trapped behind a rock fall in Pike River were returned to them, he said.

"They say they're going to get into that mine by Christmas but I don't believe them. If Pike was flush with money, can you tell me that Pike would have taken a year to get behind that rockfall?"

"We're no better off than we were when this accident happened. It's only the support of the people in Greymouth and New Zealand that gets us through."

Carol Rose, who lost her son Stuart Mudge at Pike River, said she cannot get any closure until a body is returned to her family.

She is angry the Government has allowed a potential sale of the Pike River mine without a promise her son's body will be recovered.

"These men's bodies: They're ours. They can't be included as part of an asset sale."

"Every miner that walks through our door says they would hope we would get them out. I know Stu wouldn't want to be left in there. We want him back."

She said she would have struggled to make it through the last year without the support of the other families of the Pike River dead.

"We've become a new family. We're our own family. I've never been in a group like this."

Ms Rose said she will not be heading to the Pike River mine today - as she preferred to think her son was always with her.

"I've been up before and I don't feel that that's where he is. Even now my son's body is not where he is."

Neville Rockhouse lost his son Ben in the Pike River mine.

His other son Daniel, a mine electrician, survived the blast and was heralded a hero for helping to save worker Russell Smith by supporting him out of the mine to safety.

He spoke of his disbelief that the bodies of the 29 men had not yet been recovered from the mine.

"Tomorrow is going to be a very very sad occasion. To a lot of people it's unbelievable that here we are one year on and the guys are still not out of the mine," he told Newstalk ZB yesterday.

Families who lost loved ones that day have been through "excruciating times" over the last year and still did not have closure, said Mr Rockhouse.

"Two-and-a-half phases of the Royal Commission, setback after setback, the blame game, political football - it's just been incredibly sad and incredibly arduous," he said.

Mr Rockhouse worked in Australian mines for several years and felt sure if the disaster had happened there, the miners would be out by now.

- additional reporting, Abby Gillies

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