23 Jun 2023

Pike River investigation: Police say more remains found inside mine

8:00 pm on 23 June 2023

More human remains have been found inside Pike River Mine during the ongoing investigation into the explosion in 2010 which killed 29 men.

Detective Superintendent Darryl Sweeney said recent imaging from borehole drilling showed the remains of two or possibly three miners in the crib room area, although police were not able to identify them.

Watch Sweeney speaking here shortly:

"Previously, police have been able to narrow down the possibilities based on information about where the miners were working prior to the first explosion.

"Unfortunately, in this case, we're not able to do that."

Up to 12 remains have now been found.

"They may even be my boy," said Rowdy Durbridge, whose son Dan died in the explosion, when he learned of the discovery.

"The remains that have been seen are the fellas I worked with ... everyone knows 29 men died in that sh*thole of a mine but to know they have been seen is somehow different."

Durbridge said the recovery of images from inside the mine had been been haunting, but he felt reassured by the evidence showing the miners died quickly.

"I can take some heart in the fact that what's been seen confirms they fell where they stood and didn't spend days trapped in there alive like some people have tried to claim."

Anna Osborne, who lost her husband Milton in the mine, said the re-entry of Pike River and the subsequent investigation had returned some honour to New Zealand

"The effort that this government and now the police have put into getting back into Pike, and then investigating the trove of evidence that has produced, has gone a long way to putting right some of the injustices and lies Pike families have faced since that awful day in 2010."

Sweeney said the process had been extremely difficult for the families of the miners.

He said the the final boreholes had been drilled and the investigation would continue into what caused the mine explosion.

The Pike River Family Reference Group, which represents the majority of Pike River families, said the end of evidence gathering at Pike River Mine was another step towards justice.

Osborne said she was hopeful the police investigation would end in a prosecution.

"In my heart of hearts I believe it will be. I am confident it will end in accountability for those responsible."

Police announced in September 2022 they were reopening the borehole drilling operation as part of the criminal investigation into the explosion. Work began on 10 additional boreholes in late January.

In May, police said possible human remains had been identified from images inside the mine.

Sweeney said on previous occasions police had been able to narrow down the possibilities of who the men might be, based on information on where they were working before the first explosion.

In this instance, remains were found in a communal area towards the working part of the mine where they may have been taking a short break, which made it hard to identify who they were.

'Some decisions' on prosecution by end of year

All 10 boreholes have now been drilled, imaged, and resealed, Sweeney told media on Friday.

"In the imagery we've just taken in this final stage, we've located one of two of the missing drift runners, which were vehicles essentially used to transport the miners and materials underground.

"That drift runner was roughly the same area that the human remains were found."

He said the borehole programme was a unique and technically difficult, requiring innovation in order to forensically examine the site without entering it.

"We've built cameras that were probably unique worldwide for this kind of work."

He said images they had been able to gather indicated the deaths were an "instantaneous event".

Now the the borehole programme was complete police were focusing on other aspects of the investigation, including working through witness statements, facts and evidence, and working with various experts.

Police would engage a Crown solicitor and make an assessment on whether there will be a prosecution.

"I would like to think we'd be in a position by the end of the year to make some decisions."

The families of all 29 miners were notified of the discovery this week, he said.

"We recognise after all this time process is still really difficult for the families and we remain committed to keeping the families updated with activity and information that we receive during the investigation.

All equipment was removed from the remote West Coast site last week and a karakia was held on Monday.

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