Pike River families protest lack of progress

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Anna Osborne and Tom Daly put up a sign on the Cobden Bridge protesting the lack of progress in recovering loved ones' bodies.  Photo / Greymouth Star.
Anna Osborne and Tom Daly put up a sign on the Cobden Bridge protesting the lack of progress in recovering loved ones' bodies. Photo / Greymouth Star.

A small group of Pike River families have hung a large banner from the Cobden Bridge as they began a protest over the lack of progress in recovering their loved ones' bodies.

Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the mine explosion 16 months ago, is infuriated by the lack of progress.

Mrs Osborne said the sign on the Greymouth bridge and another outside National Party list MP Chris Auchinvole's office were part of a quiet protest that was the "start of things to come".

"I'm speaking out, out of sheer frustration with the lack of progress to bring our men home.

"Sixteen months is way too long and we are back to square one; I don't believe a lot of progress has been made."

She said the families had been told to be dignified and say nothing but she felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"I don't want to jeopardise the recovery by speaking but it is about time something is done."

She said Milton did not like working at Pike.

"He was not a miner. We need to bring him home; we need that as a family for closure."

Steve Rose, who lost son Stuart Mudge in the disaster, said yesterday he was also keen to see progress.

Mr Rose said he understood due process had to be followed but people were now talking about reclaiming the main tunnel, not recovering the bodies.

"The Government has wiped its hands of it, the receivers have on-sold the mine and the problem is still there.

"Body recovery is just a side-shoot and we always get some sort of spin as to what's happening. We want people to focus on getting our men back and we will not rest until the bodies are in boxes in front of us."

Mines Rescue has explained why it cannot drill down from the surface, bypassing the l rockfall between the portal and the 29 dead.

That was what was done in the Chile gold mine rescue six weeks before the Pike disaster, when 33 men were brought out alive.

Mines Rescue manager Trevor Watts said that at the shallowest point, it was 110m from the surface to the coal tunnels below.

"We couldn't drill a hole large enough for us to get down with breathing apparatus," he said.

"People are still talking about Chile, but it was a 600mm diameter cage. Some of our miners are pretty big guys, they wouldn't fit. And they didn't have breathing apparatus."

Mr Watts said the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the disaster was expected to rule that every mine needed a proper second escape way.

Pike River statutory mine manager Steve Ellis said it would not be safe to lower men into a mine where there was a risk of explosion, and only one way in and out.

He said a hole larger than the Chile one could be drilled, but the cost started rising sharply. "It would cost millions and millions."

The plan is to seal the area in front of the rockfall.

Once the mine sells a tunnel may be dug around the rockfall and a second escape tunnel dug.

- Greymouth Star

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