Pike River father Bernie Monk says mine is safe for re-entry

Bernie Monk, spokesman for some of the Pike River families.
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

Bernie Monk, spokesman for some of the Pike River families.

The father of a man who died in the Pike River coal mine disaster says recent testing shows part of the mine is safe to re-enter.

Bernie Monk, whose son Michael was one of 29 men to die in the November 2010 disaster, said tests within the last fortnight showed gas levels were safe enough for re-entry.

Pike River mine is now run by government-owned Solid Energy.

The main entry to the Pike River mine has been sealed since it was rocked by a series of explosions in November 2010.
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

The main entry to the Pike River mine has been sealed since it was rocked by a series of explosions in November 2010.

The company has sealed the mine 170 metres into the main entry point, stabilising it for future exploration.

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It says gas levels beyond that point are too high for safe re-entry.

Monk, a spokesman for some of the victims' families, said recent tests showed the seal was unnecessary, as gas levels had reached a safe threshold.

He had seen workers, including government officials, going in and out of the mine to install the seal with ease, and he could not comprehend why they were not allowed further into the mine.

"They were walking in and out of that mine like it was an everyday event. They've had machines in and out as if it was a main road.

"My argument is, why are we putting a retrievable seal in for a future date to go in the mine when [testing] proves to us we can go in there now?"

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The families of the victims want re-entry to the drift – the long, sloping access tunnel used to access the mine proper.

It may hold crucial evidence about what caused the disaster, and help determine whether negligence was a factor.

No-one has been prosecuted for the disaster, which has been a sticking point among the families.

As part of the test, gas was released from the drift through the top of the mine. It took 24 hours for the methane to return, indicating it could be made safe beyond the seal, Monk said.

He said the Australian experts advising the Government were out of step with local and international experts, who believed entry to the drift was safe.

Monk would write to Prime Minister John Key urging the Government to allow access to the drift.

"It's just bloody frustrating. Have we had any more explosions in the last six years? Have we had any more gas problems? The answer is no. Yet they still won't do the job," he said.

"We're not asking them to go and get the men out, we're asking them to retrieve the drift. It'll give accountability and justice, which is what the families want."

Key said he had not seen any evidence suggesting the mine was safe to re-enter.

"I haven't seen any evidence to support that.

"Historically the view has been from our officials and our experts that it's too dangerous, and I haven't seen anything that would counter that view," he said.

Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall faced 12 charges , which were later dropped.

Whittall was unemployed for several years after the disaster. He briefly started a mine consultancy which failed to attract clients.

 - Stuff

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