Pike River family members say the recovery of a military robot lost in the days after the devastating explosion brings them an inch closer to the truth of what happened.

Lost in the drift just five days after the mine exploded, the second robot was recovered by the re-entry team on Thursday.

Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the 2010 explosion, said the recovery was proof that the re-entry was working.

"The last time this robot saw the light of day we were being told by the mine management that our men would still be alive down there eating their crib.

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"It was the start of years of lies that are finally being put to rest by this recovery."

The second military robot to be sent into the Pike River drift in the days after the explosion has been recovered by the reentry team. Photo / Supplied
The second military robot to be sent into the Pike River drift in the days after the explosion has been recovered by the reentry team. Photo / Supplied

"For years we were told that the drift was too dangerous to enter. This shows that we can get in and we can get evidence out."

For Rowdy Durbridge, whose son was among the 29 miners killed, the recovery team's efforts sought justice for the dead.

"We've all known for years that we could get into the drift safely, but now to see these boys getting the job done, it makes me proud we stuck to our guns."

There were four more robots and a loader before the recovery moves into "unseen territory", including the room containing electrical gear and other potential evidence.

The robot was lost in the drift on November 24 2010 - just five days after the mine exploded. Photo / Supplied
The robot was lost in the drift on November 24 2010 - just five days after the mine exploded. Photo / Supplied

On Wednesday Andrew Little, the Minister in charge of the Pike River Mine recovery effort, said it was "just impractical" to expect the remains of all of the fallen miners to be recovered.

Instead, the re-entry efforts were now essentially solely focused on gathering evidence in the "homicide of 29 men," he told a select committee.

Little revealed that there would be no further funding for re-entry, the cost of which had more than doubled since its inception.

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Re-entry originally had a $23 million budget but the Government has already spent roughly $35m and that could reach as high as $50m.

But that, according to Little, is the absolute funding limit.

Celebrations after successful re-entry to Pike River.

"There is always a limit to these things – I have no plan or intention of returning to Cabinet for any further additional resources."

He likened the recovery efforts to a police homicide investigation – "which is effectively what this is".

National later accused the parties that make up the Government of "politicising" the Pike River tragedy and building false hope among the families who lost loved ones.

National's Pike River Re-entry spokeswoman Judith Collins criticised Little's comments, saying they amounted to a broken promise from the Labour Party.

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Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the 2010 mine explosion, hugs a Pike River Recovery Agency member after they broke through the seal into the drift last year. Photo / Supplied
Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the 2010 mine explosion, hugs a Pike River Recovery Agency member after they broke through the seal into the drift last year. Photo / Supplied

Re-entering the mine and recovering the bodies of those lost in the explosion had been one of Labour's promises on the campaign trail in 2017, she said.

In a pre-election speech, then Labour leader Andrew Little promised: "to do everything practicably possible to re-enter the drift to recover any remains, and to better understand the cause or causes of the original explosion".

In a subsequent press release, Jacinda Ardern said: "Re-entering the drift will mean we can recover some of the men, and evidence of the cause of the explosions".

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Collins said Little's admission yesterday that there was little chance of human remains being recovered backtracked on his original promise.

In a later statement, Little said the police investigation into the loss of life was still open and any new evidence obtained as a result of the investigation would be vital to police in any action they may consider.

"I have been clear from the outset that recovery of human remains is a low probability, but there remains a possibility remains may be found in the Pit Bottom in Stone area," he said.

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"In that event that remains were found in Pit Bottom in Stone would be evidence and carefully and sensitively repatriated.

"The most important area for forensic examination is the Pit Bottom in Stone area near the end of the drift. Examining the Pit Bottom in Stone area is crucial to filling in the gaps in what the Royal Commission was able to establish."

But the situation beyond the rockfall in the workings had always been fundamentally different, Little said.

"At all times the Government has been completely upfront with the families, and the families know the recovery project does not extend beyond the rockfall into the workings."

The mandate of the Pike River Recovery Agency has always been to safely re-enter and recover the Pike River Mine Drift, to give the Pike River families closure, to promote accountability for the tragedy and to help prevent future mining tragedies, Little said.

That mandate had not changed, he said.

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But for Sonya Rockhouse, whose son was killed in the explosion, today was a milestone.

"This is what we fought for, it's the chance to get to the truth of what killed the men and boys we loved and hopefully to hold someone accountable for it."

READ MORE:
Mike Hosking: Labour's Pike River disgrace now that victims' remains will not be recovered
Pike River: Andrew Little says it is 'just impractical' to expect all bodies to be recovered
Coronavirus Covid 19: Pike River mine recovery suspends operations
Pike River victim's mother says 'enough is enough', re-entry has already spent too much