10 years on: Pike River remembered at 3.44pm – PM and victims lead minute of silence

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will today join Pike River victims’ families in a minute’s silence to commemorative 10 years since the tragedy that killed 29 workers.

“At 3.44pm today, New Zealand will remember them,” Ardern said in a statement.

“The tragedy of Pike River Mine has been the loss of these men to their loved ones and generations to come – they were never able to lead full lives and their families have suffered because of that. They have also suffered because no-one was held accountable at the time.

“We can never make up for the loss their families suffered, but we can honour them by keeping working to improve New Zealand’s woeful record on workplace safety. These men died at work and that just should not happen.”

Anna Osbourne, who lost her husband Milton, will open the service following a karakia, and Ardern will speak before the silence is observed, followed by a roll-call of those who lost their lives.

On Friday, November 19, 2010, at about 3.44pm, an explosion ripped through the Pike River underground coal mine, followed by subsequent explosions. Two men made it out alive but another 29 were unaccounted for.

A subsequent coroner’s report ruled 29 men died on that first day, either from impact of the blast or the poisonous atmosphere it created.

The Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy found that the “immediate cause of the first explosion was the ignition of a substantial volume of methane gas”, but could only speculate on what might have triggered ignition.

“The mine was new and the owner, Pike River Coal Ltd (Pike), had not completed the systems and infrastructure necessary to safely produce coal. Its health and safety systems were inadequate,” the commission’s report said.

Today’s service, in Parliament, will hear from other elected members of the Stand With Pike Family Reference Group.

It will be an emotional moment following the heartache from the loss of 29 lives, outrage over attempts to permanently seal the mine – which the families successfully fought – and frustration at the lack of accountability.

WorkSafe laid charges against former Pike River boss Peter Whittall in 2013, but the case was dropped after a $3.4 million settlement was paid – a deal the Supreme Court later said was unlawful.

The money was split between the two survivors and the families of the 29 missing, a total of $110,000 for each man who had been down the mine that day.

Australian company VLI Drilling (which employed three of the men who died) also pleaded guilty to health and safety charges and was fined $46,800.

In attendance at the parliamentary service – reflecting where the workers had come from – will be Grey District Council Mayor Tania Gibson, British Deputy High Commissioner Helen Smith, and Australian High Commissioner Patricia Forsythe, as well as Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood, National Party Pike River spokesman Simon Bridges, and Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

There will also be a public service today in Blackball, on the West Coast, and some families are expected to make a pilgrimage to the Pike River Mine portal.

In 2018 the Government approved that a Pike-River re-entry mission, and as of Monday the recovery had made it 2146m into the mine’s drift, and less than 100m away from the Rocsil plug.

The plug fills the entire width and height of the tunnel to keep oxygen out of the areas beyond – the last eight metres of the drift, the roof fall (an area of tunnel that collapsed in following the explosion, where some workers who perished may have been
), and the mine workings (4.3km of tunnels where the coal was extracted – and where the remains of the 29 miners are expected to be).

The recovery operation hopes to make it to the roof fall by Christmas and then return to Pit Bottom in Stone – a 600m network of tunnels off both sides of the main tunnel, which had previously been “roped off” as a potential crime scene.

That area contained electrical and water equipment – all potential clues that could shed light on what happened underground 10 years ago leading to the explosion.

At this stage, the operation’s mandate is to recover the drift, not the mine workings.

Remembering the 29 men who died in the Pike River Mine on November 19, 2010

Conrad Adams, 43, Greymouth
Daniel (Dan) Herk, 36, Runanga
David (Dave) Hoggart, 33, Greymouth
Richard (Rolls) Holling, 41, Blackball
Koos Jonker, 47, Limpopo, South Africa
Peter (Pete) Rodger, 40, Perth, Scotland
Blair Sims, 28, Greymouth
Keith Valli, 62, Nightcaps
Terry Kitchin, 41, Runanga
Joshua (Josh) Ufer, 25, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia
Zen Drew (Verhoeven), 21, Greymouth
Kane Nieper, 33, Greymouth
Riki (Rik) Keane, 28, Greymouth
Malcolm Campbell, 25, St Andrews, Scotland
Glenn Cruse, 35, Greymouth
Allan Dixon, 59, Runanga
Christopher (Chris) Duggan, 31, Dunollie
William (Willie) Joynson, 49, Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
Stuart (Stu) Mudge, 31, Runanga
Peter O’Neill, 55, Runanga
Brendon Palmer, 27, Greymouth
Samuel (Sam) Mackie, 26, Christchurch
Milton (Milt) Osborne, 54, Ngahere
Joseph Dunbar, 17, Christchurch
Benjamin (Ben) Rockhouse, 21, Singleton, New South Wales, Australia
Michael Monk, 23, Greymouth
John Hale, 45, Hokitika
Andrew (Huck) Hurren, 32, Hokitika
Francis Marden, 41, Barrytown

Timeline of events

March 2004: Approval given for Pike River Coal to open an underground mine.

October 2008: The mine formerly opens.

February 2010: After a number of delays, the first shipment of coal from Pike River is exported.

19 November 2010: A methane gas explosion occurs deep inside the mine – two workers walked out but 29 remained missing.

24 November 2010: A second explosion occurs – Pike River Coal chief executive said there was no chance the workers were still alive.

26 November 2010: A third explosion rocks the mine.

28 November 2010: The mine is sealed after a fourth explosion.

29 November 2010: The government announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the disaster.

13 December 2010: Pike Rover Coal goes into receivership.

14 January 2010: The police abandoned attempts to recover the 29 bodies.

5 November 2012: The Royal Commission recommends changes to health and safety laws, finding the miners were exposed to “unacceptable risk”.

15 August 2017: Prior to the 2017 election the Labour party, Green party, Māori party, and United Future signed a cross-party agreement to renter the mine.

31 January 2018:The Pike River Recovery Agency established.

14 November 2018: Minister Andrew Little approves single re-entry of the mine.

21 May 2019: 30m barrier breached and the mine was re-entered.

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