Pike River Mine via Getty
Pike River Mine via Getty

Lloyd Burr: At this time exactly 11 years ago, it was absolute chaos on the West Coast

Lloyd Burr 19/11/2021

OPINION: At this time exactly 11 years ago, it was absolute chaos on the West Coast. 

Pike River Mine had exploded, 31 men had been underground when it happened, 2 had managed to escape, but 29 of them were still more than 2 kilometres into the side of the Paparoa Ranges. 

Despite initial optimism that the men could be saved, the picture slowly became clear that it was a near impossibility. 

Pike River CEO Peter Whittal put on the act of his lifetime, painting himself as a caring, heartbroken, and responsible leader who was just as blindsided by this as anyone else. 

But the truth was that he oversaw the creation of a death trap. He ignored safety concerns, he cut corners, he talked a big game to investors, but failed every single one of his workers. 

Worse still, he treated the families with the same contempt. 

He filled them with hope that their sons, fathers, husbands, and partners would still be alive underground, in rescue shelters that didn’t even exist. 

There were no rescue plans, no robots capable of going up the drift, and no emergency exit tunnel. 

Then there was a second explosion, and a third, and flames erupted out of the ventilation shaft. 

Families were told there was no chance of survival for any of them. 

The scenes outside the meeting when the families were told this were raw and painful. Pure grief. Pure heartbreak. 

The then-Prime Minister John Key said he’d do everything he could to bring the bodies of men home, no matter what he cost. 

His government never fulfilled that promise. His ministers obfuscated with reports about it being too dangerous to enter to recover the remains. They wanted to seal it permanently with dozens of truckloads of concrete. 

Peter Whittal was never held responsible. He fled to Australia. 

And the families began doing what they’ve done ever since: fighting for justice. Fighting for answers. Fighting to have their loved ones returned. 

And despite the current government creating the Pike River Recovery Authority - no recovery of the bodies has taken place. And it’s unlikely it will.

So families are still at a loss. Some can’t fight anymore. Some want to fight but are too broken. Others are still fighting. 

Eleven years of fighting. It’s an awfully long time - for no justice, no answers, no graves, and no hope left that they’ll be able to properly farewell their loved ones, who have been failed on so many levels.

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