There is no doubt in Daniel Rockhouse's mind that he and Russell Smith were not the only two who survived the first Pike River mine explosion.

Rockhouse made his way out of the mine after a methane blast on November 19, 2010, dragging Smith with him.

The friends were the only two men who came out alive after the explosion ripped through the West Coast coal mine, leaving 29 trapped inside - where they remain today.

He calls Solid Energy's plans to permanently plug the mine with concrete "disgusting".


Yesterday, after two days of protesting at its gates - led by Rockhouse's mother Sonya, who lost her son Benjamin, 21, and Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton, 54, died in the disaster - Environment Minister Nick Smith announced the work would be delayed a week.

The protesters say they'll remain there until John Key "makes good his promise to the families".

Sonya Rockhouse says Key made a commitment to get the 29 out in 2014.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the Government had done everything it could to allow the recovery of the bodies, but ultimately the decision whether to re-enter the mine was Solid Energy's.

"The expert advice remains that the mine is unsafe to enter and we cannot risk further lives by allowing entry when it is not safe to do so."

Labour leader Andrew Little said independent, objective advice from mines experts had shown the drift near the entrance of the mine was safe to re-enter.

"If the advice that they now seem to be receiving is accurate ... then what possible impediment is there to go and check that out. Why wouldn't you give it a go?"

The Government could not say it had fulfilled its promise to do "everything it could" unless it took this step, he said.

Plans to seal off the Pike River mine have been put off for a week after protests by relatives of the dead. Photo / Iain McGregor
Plans to seal off the Pike River mine have been put off for a week after protests by relatives of the dead. Photo / Iain McGregor

Nick Smith's announcement to delay the final closure of the mine was bittersweet for Daniel Rockhouse.

"I think they've just tried to ease us into it by delaying it and pushing it back and back year after year. They're just kicking us in the guts once more."

He believed evidence of what caused the series of explosions could still be gathered from equipment the mine. So could the remains of some of his mates.

"Without a doubt in my mind, there are people in that mine that survived that first explosion, just like I did.

"I believe that some of them survived and made an attempt to escape the mine. They could have fallen unconscious like I did.

"There could be a couple of bodies sitting in that drift right now on this side of the fall."
At the time of the explosion, Rockhouse was slammed against the side of the mine. He lost consciousness, but woke up and was able to make his way out.

Pike River families stage protest against sealing mine. Photo / Barry Uddstrom
Pike River families stage protest against sealing mine. Photo / Barry Uddstrom

He came across Smith on his way, and dragged him to safety.

Rockhouse said the fight for answers had been traumatising, stressful and emotional - to the point where he had stepped away. But his mother continued to battle.

"Mum's so determined that she's not going to give up until the bitter end.

"[The families] have tried everything they can to get everyone out. What more can they do? They're all so passionate about wanting to find out what exactly happened down there - even after everyone's telling them to get over it and move on, they've just refused to.

"I think that's a great thing.

"If I was allowed to, I would walk up that mine right now just to find some answers."


Nearly six years on, Rockhouse's life has changed immeasurably.

He's worked in mines underground in Australia and Canada. His marriage has ended and a new one is about to begin. He and his fiancee live in Christchurch with his five-year-old daughter whom his then wife was carrying at the time of the disaster.

Pike River families stage protest against sealing mine. Photo / Barry Uddstrom
Pike River families stage protest against sealing mine. Photo / Barry Uddstrom

He thinks about Pike River on an hourly basis.

"I still have dreams about it. I go to bed at night - my partner wakes up to find me shaking.

"I deal with it, it's just part of my life. I'm not looking for sympathy. It sucks, but I don't choose to dream about it."

He's been diagnosed with PTSD and depression, and suffers from anxiety from time to time, though it's not so bad anymore, he says.


"I'm part of this tragedy and I'm dealing with it the best I can.

"I get that people are sick of hearing about it. It's hard for me to see it on the news because it hasn't been resolved."

His message to the government is to deal with it.

"Stop pushing it away".

He'd like to sit down in a room with John Key. He's like answers, closure, even an apology.

But for now, he'll have to settle with this week's six-year memorial service to the 29 men who died, and who remain in the mine.

Sonya Rockhouse lost family members in the mine. Photo / Supplied
Sonya Rockhouse lost family members in the mine. Photo / Supplied
Daniel Rockhouse with daughter Ella Rockhouse. Photo / Supplied
Daniel Rockhouse with daughter Ella Rockhouse. Photo / Supplied

Daniel Rockhouse: Why not let us see what we can find? All we want is to know

I walked out of that mine pulling another guy out with me. People need to understand that the potential to reclaim the drift up to the rock fall safely is very real - what these protesters are saying is that there is potentially evidence in the drift that could lead to explaining to us all what actually caused the first blast.

I was 1.8km in the mine when it blew. There were two to five men in particular who were 2.2 to 2.4 km in the mine, who I had spoken to just minutes before it went bang. What's to say some or all of these men didn't do exactly as I did: survive the initial blast and attempt to make their way out, pass out just like I did, but not not regain consciousness?

People have to realise that the rock fall did not happen until many days after the first blast and there was no fire until the third and fourth explosions days later. So why couldn't they have tried to escape? Experts and mine rescue are saying it's safe enough to reclaim the drift so why not let us see what we can find?

All we want is to know.

Pike River timeline

November 19, 2010

: Methane ignites, causing an explosion in the mine. Two of the 31 miners and contractors present escape. Specialist equipment is flown in to help rescue the miners, but they cannot be reached for days because of high gas levels.


November 24, 2010

: After a second explosion, Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall tells families of the 29 miners that there is no chance the workers are still alive.

November 26, 2010

: A third, smaller explosion is followed by a fourth explosion which ignites coal in the mine.

November 28, 2010

: Prime Minister John Key announces Royal Commission inquiry into the mine tragedy, to be chaired by High Court judge Graham Panckhurst. The gases inside the mine remain volatile, preventing recovery of the bodies.


December 13, 2010

: Pike River Coal placed in receivership.

January 14, 2010: Police abandon attempts to recover the 29 bodies.

July 2010: Royal Commission hearings into the disaster begin, with 57 witnesses appearing and 200 written submissions received. A number of safety failings at Pike River are highlighted by witnesses. The Government is also criticised for watering down regulations and the mining inspectorate.

September 29, 2010: Peter Whittall sacked as chief of Pike River Coal.

November 11, 2010: Department of Labour lays charges in the Greymouth District Court for health and safety failings against Mr Whittall, Pike River subcontractor VLI Drilling and Pike River Coal.


September 22, 2011: John Key tells Pike River families "I'm here to give you absolute reassurance we're committed to getting the boys out, and nothing's going to change that... when people try and tell you we're not... they're playing with your emotions".

May 31, 2012: Families told by mining experts that bodies will probably never be recovered.

July 31, 2012: VLI Drilling pleads guilty to three health and safety-related charges, and is later fined $46,800. Families of the victims respond furiously to the penalty. Pike River Coal says it will not fight the 10 charges it faces.

October 25, 2012: Former CEO Peter Whittall pleads not guilty to 12 health and safety-related charges, and a trial date is set for March 2013.

November 5, 2012: Royal Commission found the disaster was a preventable tragedy, but it could not pinpoint the actual cause of the explosions.
December 23, 2013: John Key apologises to the families for the role that "lack of regulatory effectiveness played in the tragedy."

February 26, 2013: After a five hour meeting of 21 global mining experts, including representatives of the Government's newly-formed High Hazards Unit, Solid Energy, Mines Rescue, and consultants hired by Pike families, families are left confident bodies could be recovered.


July 2013: Pike River Coal is ordered to pay $3.41 million in reparation - $110,000 for the family of each victim and survivors. The company, in receivership, indicated during sentencing it had only enough money to pay $5000 to each family.

August 2013: The board of Solid Energy signs off a plan to re-enter the tunnel. Prime Minister John Key pledged $10 million for the re-entry if the plan was safe, technically feasible and financially credible.

October 2013: The first phase is completed, with 35 tonnes of debris removed from the mine.

November 2013: Work begins to plug the mine's shaft. The mine is then to be pumped full of nitrogen to force out any methane gas, and allow experts to walk down a 2.3km shaft to a rockfall.

December 2013: The Crown announces that charges against former Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall have been dropped.

August 2014: Solid Energy announces "potentially fatal risks" are still needed to be examined before attempting to enter. John Key is confronted by Pike River families in Greymouth.


September 2014: An Official Information Act (OIA) reveals WorkSafe New Zealand and Mine Rescue's advice to Solid Energy it was technically feasible to re-enter the mine.
October 2014: Solid Energy delays its decision on whether to go ahead with re-entering the Pike River Mine drift.

November 2014: Solid Energy decide to abandon recovery efforts, and Government Ministers confirm the mine will be converted into conservation land and preserved as a memorial.

November 2015: Prime Minister John Key says "I don't think anyone in their right mind would say I should send another 15 men to their peril because some family members want their loved ones removed from the mine."

November 13: The final sealing off of the mine, planned for this week, is delayed for a week to allow families to mark the sixth anniversary of the disaster. But protesters at the gate to the mine say the occupation will not end until John Key fulfills his promise to do everything he can to recover the bodies. A spokesman for Key says: "At the time the Prime Minister said the Government would do everything it reasonably could to try and find a safe re-entry method, to allow the recovery of the bodies of the 29 men and to fulfil the wishes of their families, and it has absolutely done that."