Mother who entered Pike River mine: 'I felt empty, numb'

10:32 am on 6 October 2019

It's been almost 10 years since the Pike River mine disaster and yesterday, as families stood closer than ever been before to where the victims died, they described feeling empty and numb.

Pike River Recovery Agency engineers work to remove the 30m barrier and dewater the infrastructure at the mine site.

Pike River Recovery Agency engineers work to remove the 30m barrier and dewater the infrastructure at the mine site. Photo: Pike River Recovery Agency / Supplied

Twenty-nine men died in an explosion at the Pike River mine in November 2010 and work is being carried out to re-enter the mine.

Barbara and Brian Nieper's son 33-year-old son Kane was one of them. He was a husband and father with a young family. They said it was an emotional milestone to get closer to their son.

"It was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be smaller, narrower, not quite so high. I thought - by the reports they had told us earlier - that there'd be lots of debris and tubes and wires ... but it was really all intact," Mrs Nieper said.

Mr Nieper told First Up he had worked underground before, but going into the drift yesterday was "emotional" and he was pleased to get out of it.

"I felt empty," Mrs Nieper said.

"And yet I felt that that's the closest we've probably been for nine years and hopefully we're going to get a wee bit closer yet. It's a strange numb sort of a feeling."

She said as parents not being able to help their son was horrible.

"The worst part of the last nine years was we didn't get a chance to help him; as parents, kids whenever they need mum and dad and ... by the time that he needed us most we couldn't do anything, we couldn't be anywhere ... that as a parent is really hard.

"I did say 'sorry'."

The Pike River Recovery Agency said it took 20 months and a lot of hard work to get the families in.

The agency is charged with gathering evidence to understand how the explosion occurred and to recover the miners' bodies.

Chief operating officer Dinghy Pattinson said yesterday's visit by families went according to plan.

"Everyone of the members that went underground had an individual experienced mining person assigned to them. We just gave them time to be at the wall, the barrier. They just had time to reflect. Some chose to take some flowers and leave them at the wall and some chose to take some letters in. We'll leave them in that area for them."

He told Morning Report lighting was set up for good vision and health and safety reasons.

Before removing that 170m wall, fresh air will be put into the tunnel, and the nitrogen will be removed, he said.

"Then we start incrementally working our way up the tunnel.

"It will probably take us a good four months or so to get from the 170m [mark] up to the end of the tunnel [at] 2.3km."

It had to be meticulous because it was a crime scene, he said, and full forensics from the entrance to the 170m mark had been completed.

"We'll just do it as we keep going up the tunnel; that involves photographs or anything of interest."

There were about five or six possible causes of the explosion, but he said that would only be determined when the team reached the Pit Bottom in Stone area.

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