17 Nov 2021

Families, minister respond to discovery of human remains in Pike River mine

8:32 pm on 17 November 2021

A turbulent mix of emotions are being felt as - just two days shy of the 11th anniversary of the Pike River mine disaster - human remains have been discovered.

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The Pike River mine site. Photo: Supplied / Pike River Recovery Agency

The news has left families in shock, while others have expressed anger and frustration at the process that has led to this point.

Police Detective Superintendent Peter Read called a surprise media conference in Christchurch this afternoon to annouce the discovery.

"Today police notified the families of the 29 victims of the Pike River mine tragedy that we've recovered some images from the boreholes that confirm two deaths, two bodies, with the possibility of a third body there as well," Read said.

The images, taken late last week, were from the furtherest reaches of the mine - as far from the entrance as they could be, he said.

"And it's not possible for us to recover them. While we've been unable to identify the remains, we're working with forensic experts to see what we can do to confirm the identities.

"Based on the investigation that we've done to date, we know that there's six to eight people that were working in that area."

One of the miners working in the area where remains were found was Dan Herk.

His dad Rowdy Durbridge said it was a shock.

"I'm still processing it all, but yeah, it's a good thing," he said today.

"It hurts, but it's a good thing. Even though you anticipate, you hope that they find bodies or parts, and in doing it and receiving the news, it's quite a shock."

Police have been investigating boreholes from the site as part of their criminal investigation into the tragedy, with the aim of proving or eliminating theories from the Royal Commission of Inquiry on what triggered the first explosion.

Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the mine, said it was an emotional day.

"We fought for this. We fought really hard to get these boreholes done so that an investigation, a proper investigation, can take place," Osborne said.

"Our men deserve that and we fought, we fought so hard, and for the police to be able to get the boreholes done and get these images, it's gold."

Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little said the findings would help that investigation.

But he doubted there was any chance of recovering the remains.

"Some family members wanted us to try to get through the roof fall, which is the least safe part of the mind site at the moment," he said.

"Even if we were able to get through that, it is highly unlikely we could physically have got that part of the mine anyway - that is the most remote part of the mine."

Read said better technology had helped the police investigation, 11 years on.

"The imagery is providing us new information and information that we would have not otherwise got, because we were never going to be able to go into that part of the mine.

"So, any information that we can get and the quality of the imagery is really, really good compared to what we've had before.

"So that is actually assisting us. It's been it's been really, really helpful."

It meant police were one step closer to a potential prosecution - something Durbridge said was crucial.

"We can't let 29 men go to work and get killed and let the people responsible for the area in which they worked in walk away unscathed," he said.

"With a bit of luck, it will help with the prosecution."

Read is travelling to the coast this evening to brief the families on the situation.

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