2 Dec 2010

Remembrance service held for mine workers

11:07 pm on 2 December 2010

Twenty-nine workers killed at the Pike River Coal mine have been honoured at a remembrance service on the West Coast.

On a hot day in Greymouth, thousands of mourners gathered at the Omoto Racecourse to pay their respects to the men who became trapped after an explosion at the underground mine on 19 November.

As the national service began at 2pm on Thursday, a two-minute silence was held at the racecourse and throughout New Zealand as a mark of respect.

The racecourse is at the foot of the valley where the men lie buried in the mine and many in the crowd wiped away tears as the national anthem God Defend New Zealand and the unofficial West Coast anthem How Great Thou Art were sung.

Mourners were able to file past tables set up for each man by his family and loved-ones.

A miner's helmet was placed on each, as well as floral tributes, trophies, sports jerseys and other personal items that showed the man behind the photo.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn told the families their West Coast family was there for them.

"Today, we stand in the Church of God. This valley is our cathedral. We are living though our darkest days."

Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall paid tribute to his lost friends and colleagues and says their families have suffered a tragedy few can understand.

"At 3.45pm on the 19th of November our mine exploded and our lives changed forever.

"Twenty-nine men earning a living, 29 men with plans and futures, 29 men with hobbies, sports, mates and families. Twenty-nine men lost their lives and 29 families lost their men."

The Reverend Tim Mora from the Anglican Church's Cobden-Runanga parish led the service and told the families the men's deaths were a tragic accident, and no one could understand their grief.

Words of comfort from PM

Prime Minister John Key told the families he was there on behalf of four million New Zealanders who stood with them.

Mr Key, whose father died when he was a child, offered words of comfort to the mothers of the children who have lost their fathers, saying they will find joy in their lives again one day.

"I know that the absence of a parent is a heaviness you learn to carry in your own way.

"It's a terrible thing to happen - but it doesn't mean your children will not go on to live happy, worthwhile and fulfilling lives, and in time experience joyfulness and love in new families yet to be created."

Many attending the service say it does not bring closure and is only the first step to moving on from the tragedy.

Other services were held throughout New Zealand in honour of the workers, while many Defence Force camps and bases also observed the two minutes of silence.