18 Nov 2021

West Coast reacts to Pike River bodies find: 'It's very hard for our community at the moment to take it in'

7:44 pm on 18 November 2021

People on the West Coast are coming to terms with the discovery of human remains deep in the Pike River Mine, more than a decade after the deadly explosion.

Pike River Portal and fan

The Pike River Mine portal. Photo: Supplied / Pike River Recovery Agency

Tomorrow marks 11 years since the day 29 miners lost their lives when the mine collapsed. Many of their families have been campaigning for justice since 2010.

It is hard to find anyone on the streets of Greymouth who was not affected in some way by the devastating explosion.

Police revealed this week they had recovered images from the boreholes that confirm two bodies, possibly three in the furthermost reaches of the mine.

Some said the footage and the investigation was long overdue and that it marked an important milestone for the families.

"If they can go and get the boys out, that'd be really good and if there's any skullduggery those people should be held accountable," one man said.

"My father was a survivor of the Strongman explosion that happened, when 19 got killed in there, and so there's a lot of feeling that we would like to get the sons out if we can."

Many did not want to comment, some saying the tragedy has divided the town with one calling it a grey cloud that was yet to move on.

Others say the men are in their final resting place and that was where they should stay.

"I feel for the families, I really do my heart goes out to them all, but I myself think they should just leave them at rest," one said.

A woman in her 80s said "we don't bury people in the workplace", that the police should not have interfered after the explosion and if it was up to her, she would have gone in to retrieve the men herself.

Grey District mayor Tania Gibson said the release of the footage came as a shock for many two days before the 11th anniversary of the explosion.

"It has been quite a shock to our community and the families, it has bought it back up," Gibson said.

"We are really close to the anniversary, it's tomorrow, so it's very hard for our community at the moment to take it in."

Many families hoped the new footage brought police a step closer to laying charges.

Sonya Rockhouse's two sons were in the mine in the explosion. Twenty-one year old Ben was killed while older brother Daniel was one of only two survivors.

She was surprised to learn of the police footage this week.

"I thought it was just about all over and done and dusted and to be presented with this new information, it takes a little bit to get your head around it," Rockhouse said.

"But in another way, it's very pleasing because it means that everything that we've done to date has been vindicated and actually means that we've done the right thing."

She was reasonably confident the remains were not Ben's as he had been further up the mine shaft.

The latest news was just part of a long journey to justice.

"I'd like to see somebody held to account, nobody has been held to account for the deaths of 29 men and that's what needs to happen and this is part of the process to get there," Rockhouse said.

She wanted to see those responsible prosecuted for their part in the disaster.

"For us to be able to stand in a courtroom and look them in the eye and let them know that we did not let them get away with it, that we never gave up."

Speaking from Australia, Jo Ufer - whose son Josh died in the mine - heard the news from family in New Zealand the day it was announced by police.

It was a shock and hearing it two days before the 11th anniversary felt harsh but it was a positive development in the investigation, she said.

"I have always thought that gathering the evidence and what the police were doing on the back of the re-entry effort being finalised, was all positive and if it led to a possible prosecution and people having to get up in court and explain their actions around that day.

"That's all I've ever wanted, justice and accountability for what happened."

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