The families of the 29 victims of the Pike River mine tragedy have reacted with anger and anguish to news that recovery of the workers' remains is unlikely to happen.

For 18 months, they have lived in hope that a way would be found to reclaim the bodies.

A meeting this week with Solid Energy, the new owner of the mine, has dashed this.

In the process, however, it also delivered a needed note of realism.


The families' hopes had been raised by an elaborate plan involving, among other complexities, a 180m-long tunnel. This was never practicable. Solid Energy has confirmed that the bodies will be recovered only as part of future commercial mining operations and if it was "safe, technically feasible and financially credible to do so".

The state-owned enterprise's chief executive estimated there was only a 5 to 10 per cent chance of this happening, and it could take eight years to determine.

Essentially, the families' worst fears have been confirmed. They now know the remains of their loved ones will, in all likelihood, share the fate of lost mountaineers or drowned sailors whose bodies lie where they died.

Two of the families of the 19 men killed in the 1967 Strongman mine explosion had to live with the same grim realisation after bodies were deemed out of reach.

All New Zealanders will share the sadness of the families of the Pike River victims. At least now, however, those families have something approaching certainty.