Pike River families sceptical of report

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 01/11/2012

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Many Pike River families doubt a royal commission report into the November 2010 tragedy will reveal what caused the explosion that killed 29 men.

Widow Anna Osborne, whose husband Greymouth district councillor Milton Osborne died in the mine, said the commissioners' report would be based on speculation because no-one had gone further than 300 metres up its 2.4km tunnel since the blast.

"It's going to be a best guess and a best guess is nowhere near good enough for the loss of my husband." The report into the fatal blast at the underground West Coast coalmine was expected to be made public early next week after families were given copies of it.

Commission chairman Justice Panckhurst formally gave it to Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae two days ago.

A spokesman for the attorney-general said government ministers and Crown agencies, such as the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry, police, Conservation Department and Crown Law, would analyse its contents before its release. Cabinet would consider it on Monday.

But Osborne said the royal commission should have delayed its findings until the tunnel had been explored to help to determine the blast's cause.

She hoped the report would prompt police to prosecute those linked with causing the fatal blast.

Boosting mining safety would be an important outcome from the report, she said.

Neville Rockhouse, whose son Ben, 21, was killed in the mine and a second son, Daniel, then 24, survived the blast, said he felt "very cautious" about the report's likely findings.

"No-one will really know what happened at Pike River till someone can re-enter the mine. Here we are two years later and we haven't even done a reconnaissance walk up the drift. It's beyond belief."

During the 10 weeks of public hearings into the tragedy, the three commissioners blamed a roof collapse in the hydro-mining goaf, a void left when coal was extracted. That pushed explosive methane gas around the mine that was ignited by an electrical spark, they said.

Their theory was disputed.

Rockhouse, the mine's former safety and training manager, hoped the report's recommendations would improve health and safety of all high-hazard industries.

Spokesman for most Pike families, Bernie Monk, said good progress was being made towards the Mines Rescue Service doing a walk up the tunnel to a rockfall thought to block entry into the mine's main working area.

"The drift does hold a lot of information. If we can get into pit bottom, there could be a lot of answers there," he said.

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- The Press

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