20 Nov 2012

Pike families remember their dead two years on

6:07 am on 20 November 2012

Ceremonies marking the second anniversary of the Pike River Coal Mine disaster have ended with songs and the placing of flowers on a special memorial in Blackball, the closest town to the mine.

Twenty-nine men died in a series of methane explosions at the underground coal mine that began on 19 November 2010. Only two managed to get out to safety.

Family members pinned flowers for each of the men to plaques attached to a water wheel at the Blackball Museum of Working Class History.

After songs were sung, Ged O'Connell from the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, which organised the service, said a few words and urged the families to help him make sure the same thing never happens again.

The entry to the Pike River mine after the explosion.

The entry to the Pike River mine after the explosion. Photo: RNZ

On Monday afternoon, 160 family members and friends of the mine workers observed a minute's silence at the entry to the mine at 3.45pm, the exact time the first explosion occurred, and a wreath was laid.

A Scottish piper played during the trip to and from the mine, including a lament written especially for the 29 men.

Radio New Zealand's reporter on the West Coast visited the mine ahead of the service.

He says one of the most haunting reminders of what happened is the board where the name tags the men left before going underground for the last time remain.

The actual name tags of the 29 Pike mine workers . They remain where the men left them before they  went underground two years ago.

The actual name tags of the 29 Pike mine workers . They remain where the men left them before they went underground two years ago. Photo: RNZ

PM's thoughts with families

The Royal Commission's damning report on the tragedy was released on 5 November. It says the company paid insufficient attention to health and safety matters and exposed workers to unacceptable risks in its drive to produce coal.

It also heavily criticised the then Department of Labour for failing to properly supervise the mine.

Prime Minister John Key at the time apologised to the families, saying on behalf of the Government he deeply regrets what happened.

The Prime Minister said on Monday his thoughts were with the people of the West Coast as New Zealand remembered the tragedy.

Mr Key says his words will bring little comfort to the families as they continue to live with what happened, but it is right and fitting to remember the day 29 men lost their lives and the sympathy of all New Zealanders will be with the families.

Hard time for families

Malcolm Campbell and his wife Jane travelled from Scotland to farewell their only son, Malcolm Campbell Jnr. They were joined by their daughter Kerry, who lives in Australia.

Mr Campbell told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Monday reading the Royal Commission report into the tragedy has been horrendous and he can't comprehend the number of things wrong with the mine as it continued to operate.

"My God, you'd think that at least the people in charge would do their best to give them a safe working place. The report just showed that it just wasn't there - it was a total disregard for life."

Mr Campbell says criticism of the miners' role in the tragedy shows that there was no-one watching over their actions. He says attending the memorial will be one of the hardest things his family has had to do.

"We're struggling to find the words to explain this but it's just horrendous for us. I just hope anybody else never has to go through this situation because it's just been a rollercoaster and never-ending emotions all the time."

However, he remains hopeful of one day being able to return home with his son's remains.

Steve Rose, who lost his son Stuart, says Monday will be another step along the way in saying good-bye to his son.

Carol Rose says she remains as determined as ever to see the men's bodies returned to their families.

Neville Rockhouse, who lost his son Ben, was the mine's safety manager, and says while the Royal Commission into the disaster has exonerated him, it is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life.