Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Pike widow adamant good must come from tragedy

Erika Ufer points at a framed photograph of her father and says, "Daddy".

It was her first word.

But the happy toddler's "daddy" wasn't around to witness the milestone moment and she knows him only from photos.

Josh Ufer, 25, was working deep underground at Pike River when an explosion tore through his mineshaft and killed him and 28 workmates in November 2010.

His partner, Rachelle Weaver, is left with a daily reminder of the tragedy - Erika, now 17 months old.

"Erika looks like him, so I see Josh every day," Ms Weaver said yesterday.

The 25-year-old spoke after receiving a preview of the royal commission of inquiry's final Pike River report, which called the disaster a preventable tragedy.

The report slammed Pike River's management, was scathing of the old Department of Labour, prompted an apology from the Prime Minister and the resignation of Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.

Nicholas Davidson, QC, a lawyer for the victims' families, said the report painted an "unrelenting picture of failure at virtually every level".

Ms Weaver sat through most of the eight weeks of hearings, trying to work out why her partner, a father-to-be, died that day.

Yesterday, when Government ministers told her that Mr Ufer, 25, a drilling supervisor from Queensland, and the other men died in the initial blast at 3.44pm on November 19, 2010, "or very soon after", it gave her some comfort.

She welcomed the report's findings, especially the 16 recommendations to Government, because she is adamant "good must come from bad".

But she admitted that days like yesterday "drag up emotions" that she tries to mask over.

"I'm usually all right. I zone out when the mental pain starts."

She has become friends with "the other Pike River mother", Melissa Byrne, whose partner, Sam Mackie, 26, was also killed in the blast.

They see each other every week at "Pepe Group", when mums with young kids take turns at hosting lunches. Ms Byrne's son, born in July, is named Sam, after his dad.

The "Pike mums" hardly ever talk about the mine, preferring to keep lunch chatter focused on their kids and each other.

But Ms Weaver says they will always share a "bond" that others will never truly appreciate.

Ms Weaver was working at a West Coast pub when she met Mr Ufer, who soon became "a rather regular customer". They were on holiday in his homeland when they found out she was pregnant. "Josh was so excited."

She was 17 weeks pregnant when he died. Erika was born in May 2011.

Nearly two years on, Ms Weaver's life is being put back together piece by piece. Her new partner, Chris, is a car painter - her first boyfriend who works above ground.

"My two previous partners before Josh both worked at Spring Creek. It's kind of hard not to meet miners in this town - they tend to be the ones with any sort of character."

While she admits to being "dislodged for a while", she has just bought a new home for her and a "rather settled" Erika, is in love with her new man and is considering a part-time job.

"I'll never forget Josh, but now I can finally get on with living."

- APNZ

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