The father of the youngest Pike River victim has vowed to never give up the fight to get his son's remains out of the mine.
Today marks two and a half years since the November 19, 2010, explosion in the mine - located in the Paparoa Ranges, about 46 kilometres northeast of Greymouth - that claimed the lives of 29 miners and contractors.
Thirty months on from the tragedy, loved ones of the dead men continue to battle grief, red tape and repeated delays in their bid for a recovery mission to be launched.
The group includes Dean Dunbar, who said having the chance to give his 17-year-old son, Joseph, a burial was something he wanted to do "more than anything in the world".
"Every morning I wake up at 4am and talk to Joseph and say, ‘Maybe today I am going to get the phone call, maybe today we are coming to get you'," Dunbar told the Sunday Star-Times.
"All I want to do is pick that little boy up and take him out of that shithole and pop him next to his granddad so we can go and see him every day . . . give him a Christian burial.
"What do I do? Put it in my will to be buried at Pike River, so I am buried next to my son, my only son . . . the only son I will ever have?"
Joseph died just one day after his 17th birthday. He was the youngest member of the Pike River 29, and was on an orientation trip underground three days before he was set to start a fulltime job at the mine.
He was stationed at a drilling rig deep in the mine prior to the mine explosion. Dunbar believes his son and other miners and contractors would have been walking out of the mine workings at the time of the tragedy because their underground shifts were coming to an end.
World-respected mining officials hired by the Pike River families group had come up with a plan they said could allow a safe re-entry into at least the first 2.3km of the mine.
Members of the mining community, who had lost their jobs following the Pike River tragedy and the mothballing of the nearby Spring Creek mine, had also stayed on the West Coast to be involved in a recovery mission.
Dunbar said the ongoing delays were a national "disgrace", saying he was now questioning what had happened to the "Kiwi spirit".
"How do we hold this Kiwi pride of ours and honour our peers? I am losing the whole meaning of being a Kiwi," he said.
"I didn't think we left our men behind. My son would have been safer in Afghanistan - at least he would have had his mates to bring him home . . . he would have had his mates and they wouldn't have left him inside there."
Pike River went into receivership shortly after the deadly explosion. Last July, receiver PricewaterhouseCoopers confirmed that state-owned enterprise Solid Energy had bought the mine for $7.5 million.
An estimated $5 billion of coal remains inside the mine. At the time of the mine's sale, $30m worth of machinery and other workings were above the ground on the Pike River site.
As part of the sale process, Solid Energy had to sign a declaration that it would commit to any safe and feasible body recovery attempt.
But Dunbar said: "If there was a real desire for John Key and the Government, which owns Solid Energy, which owns Pike River, to go in they would have done it a long time ago.
"New Zealanders need to ask themselves why . . . why haven't they [gone in], what is stopping them? It's one delay after another after another . . . It is driving us nuts, mate. It is becoming a joke."
Over the past 2 years, Dunbar said, the families of the Pike River 29 had repeatedly had their hopes for body recovery "knocked to the ground". He said it was emotionally tiring and something he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.
Dunbar said it was a "crying shame" that 30 months on from the mining disaster, families were still battling for the return of the remains of their loved ones.
"Gone are the days of being bitter and twisted because nothing surprises me any more . . . it just breaks your heart," he said.
"[But] you can't walk away from this fight because your children are relying on you. You can't turn your back on this fight no matter how painful and hard it gets . . . This Government needs to realise that we are not leaving our children in there.
"What is it going to take for someone to stand up, listen and do the right thing and say, ‘OK, we screwed up, we are sorry, we are going to bring your boys home and make this good'. They are stripping us of our dignity."
- Sunday Star Times
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