14 Nov 2018

Pike River relatives on mine re-entry: It's a 'truly amazing day for our families'

10:53 am on 14 November 2018

Friends and family of the 29 men killed in the Pike River Mine disaster say an agreed plan to re-enter the mine is a historic moment of truth and justice.

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Relatives of mine victims Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse embrace after the announcement of the re-entry plan. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Families of some of the men killed in the November 2010 explosion were in Parliament this morning to hear the Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-Entry Andrew Little announce a plan to re-enter the mine, as promised by the new government.

The plan will involve what Mr Little said was the simplest and safest option, of re-entry using the existing single entry access tunnel.

Sonya Rockhouse, who lost her son Ben in the disaster, told Morning Report the change of government had made a huge difference to the families' campaign and the previous National government had failed them, she said.

"Before we just had the same rhetoric all the time from them.

"They wouldn't listen to our experts. We met with Bill English and asked him to meet with our experts and they refused and suddenly we've got a government where we don't have to fight, we don't have to worry because they were doing everything we wanted them to do and more."

She was confident the single-entry plan was safe and that those involved in the operation knew what they were doing.

And said she would be entering the mine to the 170m mark, accompanied by Anna Osborne - the wife of Milton Osborne who died in the explosion.

"It will be the closest I've ever been to my son since this happened and just to feel like we're in there and we're walking the same road that they walked on and took that last walk up to their job," she said.

"It's symbolic too, to show everyone it's safe and is everything we said it would be."

Tommy Daly, who lost close friend Milton Osborne in the explosion, told Morning Report the previous National government's position over re-entry had been disgraceful and that recovery of bodies "was not that much to ask".

"I can't believe it has taken eight years... If anyone thinks this thing is a waste of money or a waste of time put yourself in their shoes and just have a think about it for a minute.

"It's a hell out there ... and no one has ever had a go getting in there to see if they can get someone out and it's disgraceful," he said.

National Party spokesperson for Pike re-entry Chris Finlayson said when his party was in government the advice they received was that it was unsafe to re-enter the mine.

"Our position remains the same, safety is the sole consideration here," he said.

"Everyone would like to see the bodies recovered but safety is paramount."

Bernie Monk, who also lost a loved one, said it was a proud day for all Kiwis.

Anna Osborne said it was a historic moment for truth and justice and that the announcement was a "truly amazing day for our families".

"We fought really hard for our men for a really long time and today, this is a victory for our families," she said.

"This is a victory for the little people of New Zealand.

"We needed to fight, we need to bring our men home if we can."

She pointed out there had been 400 deaths in the workplace since the disaster and that this figure was unacceptable.

"We need to change the working culture in New Zealand, we need to up our game in terms of health and safety," she said.

Work on drilling bore holes was expected to begin immediately. Breaching of the 30m seal would begin in February.

The Pike River Family Reference Group, which represents the majority of the families, had been involved in the re-entry plan by the Pike River Recovery Agency.

Mr Little said the re-entry plan was "extraordinarily complex" and would pose "major hazards" but that the plan was being led by world experts in mining safety. The budget has been set at $36 million.

He said safety protocols would be paramount and that reassessments of the plan were possible.

The three options for re-entry had been using a single entry; building a new 250m-long tunnel, which would connect with the Pit Bottom in Stone area, for ventilation and a second escape route; and using a single entry while adding a new borehole to provide a means of emergency escape.

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