Editorial: Leaving Pike River men in peace should give closure

Quite possibly there are no remains to be found as the heat and blast of the explosions was immense. Photo / The Press
Quite possibly there are no remains to be found as the heat and blast of the explosions was immense. Photo / The Press

The 29 men who died in the Pike River mine two years and 10 months ago remain where they perished. The mine is now a grave. It will quite likely never be reopened for working. Need it be reopened for any other purpose now?

The Government yesterday announced a $7.2 million plan to enter the main tunnel and proceed as far as a rockfall that blocks it. Why? Announcing the plan, Energy Minister Simon Bridges said there was little chance of recovering the bodies of the miners, or even of reaching the area where they may lie.

There is a "slim" chance, he said, that remains may be found in the tunnel between the entrance and the rockfall, but it seems unlikely since two men who were in that area were able to get out after the explosion.

As for the prospect of penetrating beyond the rockfall, Mr Bridges said: "There's been fires, there's been floods, there's been explosions so it has been, and probably still is, a very unstable environment. That makes me personally sceptical about going further then the rockfall."

Why, then, go that far? The minister says inspection and testing at the rockfall would provide valuable further information about conditions within the main mine area and whether it is feasible to proceed. But really, to what end?

The families of the dead men have been pleading for the recovery of their bodies ever since all hope of a rescue was lost. Without this, their representatives say, the families cannot have "closure". It can be wondered whether the hope these representatives have been holding out to the families is the main reason they cannot have closure.

Quite possibly there are no remains to be found. The heat and blast of the explosions was immense. If there is anything to be found it might not be recognisable. Whatever is there, would it not be better to leave the mine decently sealed and let it be their final resting place.

It would not be the first time miners have had to be left where they died. The remains of two men killed in the Strongman Mine explosion a short distance away in 1967 were never recovered and the shaft remains too explosive to re-enter 46 years on.

The Cabinet and the board of state-owned Solid Energy have agreed to enter the Pike River main shaft on the basis that the plan is "safe, technically feasible and financially credible", said the minister. West Coast-based Green MP Kevin Hague criticised the financial criterion saying: "The recovery should never have been simply about money. The main issue is the safety of those tasked with the operation."

When there was still hope, however false, that the men might still be alive, the cost of their recovery was never a consideration. The safety of a rescue mission was all that counted. A second explosion, four days after the first, vindicated those who had said the mine had been too dangerous to enter. It also ended any lingering hope that those inside might have survived.

Ever since that hope had died, the cost of recovering their remains had been most properly a consideration. If a safe re-entry requires building sealed stages and stabilising the air section by section, the value of the exercise really should be questioned.

For the $7.2 million now committed, the mine will be pumped full of nitrogen to force out any methane gas and allow a crew to walk 2.3km to the rockfall. They may learn more about the disaster than they do about the chances of finding any human remains.

Most likely they will confirm what a royal commission has already concluded, and let the dead rest in peace. That should be closure.

- NZ Herald

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