Tears mixed with laughter marked one of the final memorial services for the 29 men killed at Pike River coalmine almost 22 months ago.
About 200 family and friends from around New Zealand and overseas gathered in Christchurch on Saturday for the emotional celebration of Ben Rockhouse's life at Avonhead School hall, where he spent five years as a pupil.
His parents and two older brothers stood united as they reminisced about their dearly loved brother and son, who was aged 21 years when the underground West Coast coalmine exploded on November 19, 2010.
His mother, Sonya Rockhouse, told the crowd how she and Ben almost died when he was born by emergency caesarean in Australia.
"He came into this world with a bang and he left this world with a bang."
Ben faced further adversity after being inadvertently set on fire by a friend, which left him in hospital with full thickness burns to one leg just before his 13th birthday.
Later, he studied for a geology degree at the University of Canterbury but took a year off after his first year to work at Pike River, where his father, Neville, was safety and training manager. He resumed his studies for another semester but withdrew and returned to Pike, becoming a driller for Valley Longwall. He had planned to move to Australia with Josh Ufer and another fellow driller. Ufer was also killed in the blast. Ben's brother Daniel was also in the mine when it exploded but managed to escape, dragging the only other survivor, Russell Smith, to safety.
He told the service about the last time he spoke to his brother underground on the day of the blast.
"I'm sorry this happened to you, Ben, and I love you," he said, weeping.
Ben's eldest brother, Matt, said he wished Ben was still alive to meet his newborn son, who was named Benji in honour of his uncle and would be christened tomorrow.
"You will never be forgotten, Ben."
He said the family would continue to fight to get Ben and his 28 colleagues' bodies out of the mine. They had delayed the memorial service to wait for the men's remains to be returned but the mine's owner, Solid Energy, announced several months ago that body recovery was extremely unlikely.
- The Press
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