With media in the area Government Minister Andrew Little and two women who lost loved ones in the Pike River coal mine methane blast eight years ago re-entered the portal area of the mine yesterday.
This, Little as Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, claimed demonstrated “a safe re-entry is possible.”
It did not, for there is a lot more work to be done to prove a re-entry was possible above the entrance and upper reaches, because the quest to recover the remains of some of the 29 men who perished in the lower levels has to pass serious tests to show no more lives will be risked.
We are not hearing anything about that, and the concept of untrained people going into a virtually destroyed mine may have been a heart-felt issue for the minister but it was a dangerous environment. A seasoned mining observer may also see it smacking of political grandstanding unless there have been specialists who have come up with new information which those who went before them did not gain.
Our hearts go out to Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse who entered the mine with Little, and it was an emotional event for them as it apparently was for the minister who as an union leader in his earlier life may have known some of the 29.
These two ladies have fought for years for more to happen and have believed more could have been done. Sadly, it was a tragedy that should not have happened if mine safety practices and a decent mines inspectorate was available at that time.
But the Government has created a whole new department for the mine re-entry, and there needs to be a better flow of information as to how this move into the depth of the mine can take place without costing lives. Some of the experts who went down the upper reaches of the mine, were happy they did not have to go deeper.
This writer has been down about 300 underground mines around the world and in my younger days worked on two mines during work holidays for experience, and apart from a coal mine disaster in South Africa, the Pike River tragedy was the worst encountered.
Mine deaths in recent years happen more from foolhardy workers, ignoring safety requirements or instructions rather than the earlier days’ problem with rockfalls and blasting. Sadly Pike River simply embraced a poor mining culture and a mine development with management short cuts, well detailed by Rebecca Macfie’s book “Tragedy at Pike River Mine.”
Little said in a statement: “In our first 100 days the Coalition Government handed the keys to Pike River Mine to the families, and established Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau Ma Iwa Pike River Recovery Agency.
“In the 11 weeks since the Agency was created we’ve made real progress on safe re-entry. Today (yesterday) proves that.”
This highly publicised move was a long way from proving a safe re-entry could be made to recover remains some of the lost men. I hope it is achievable but the question right now is should more lives be risked?