Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Christchurch.

Pike River tragedy: Two years on

Families of the 29 men killed in the Pike River mining disaster will today mark the tragedy's second anniversary.

Around 150 family members will attend a private gathering this afternoon at the Pike River memorial garden in Atarau, where 29 boulders are dedicated to the miners who died after an explosion ripped through the mine on November 19, 2010.

The families will then be taken by busses up the mine for what they know will be an emotional time, says Bernie Monk, spokesman for most of the 29 families.

A minute's silence will be held at 3.44pm to mark the time the mine exploded.

A bagpiper will then lead the Scottish family of one of the victims, engineer Malcolm Campbell, along with other families up to the mine portal where a wreath will be laid.

The piper's tune has been written especially to remember the victims.

"It's going to be quite an emotional time, a big day," said Mr Monk, whose son Michael died in the blast.

"The Campbell family have come back from Scotland, as well as families from Australia.

"There's also a lot of Pike River workers who have returned for this because they're still quite moved by what has happened. They just want to be part of it as well."

He said the second anniversary was a chance to honour his son who he "desperately wants home".

Mr Monk has been integral in leading calls to recover the trapped bodies.

Earlier this month he hosted a group of international mine safety experts who spent a week investigating how the bodies could be recovered and have concluded it can happen.

A report has since been passed on to the Government as well as the mine's new owners, Solid Energy.

Prime Minister John Key, who is out of the country, said in a statement that his thoughts were with the people of the West Coast today.

"There is no comfort in my words for the families of those who died, as they are still living this tragedy day after day," he said.

"However it is fitting and right that we remember that it was this day two years ago that 29 men lost their lives.

"I am thinking of the families and the people of the West Coast today. New Zealand has immense sympathy for their continuing grief."

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the tragedy was still "raw in everyone's minds".

"The West Coast community is very tight-knit, with a lot of community spirit," he said.

"We're moving on but we're doing it in a sensitive way so we don't forget the 29 men still lying up in that mountain.

"The families will be up there today with their thoughts but the community will be right behind them."

The family's private ceremony will be followed by a public memorial at the Blackball Worker's Museum at 6pm.

* Visit our remembrance page for the Pike River miners here.

- APNZ

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