Today sees the commemoration of the disaster that was the Pike River coal mine explosion a year ago- November 19, 2010. From 3.44pm the news spread very quickly that an explosion had occurred in the new coal-mine in rugged bushed ranges 50 kilometres to the north of Greymouth. People from all walks of life dreaded the news they would hear next, and so it was that we discovered 29 men had been trapped underground, their status unknown, but most who were involved in the mining industry, and people who were associated with miners were very pessimistic of the outcome. In the days that followed this was compounded with a second and then a third explosion of gas deep underground. Hope that had flickered like a weak candle flame turned to dispair as everyone realised that there was no hope that anybody could possibly have survived.
Now, twelve months on the third phase of the official inquiry into what caused the disaster, and who, if anyone might be to blame, has got under way in the town still mourning the 29, the town where few are not affected by what happened and who have their own views on how it happened and what should happen next. What happens next, of course includes consequences for the actions or inactions of the ‘guilty’, compensation or closure for the families of the 29 (which includes what should be done with the remains of those who died), and what happens to the mine and the billions of dollars worth of coal still underground (and this is no small matter in an area whose economy relies so much on mining).
The ‘blame game’ started almost as soon as the news broke of the first explosion, and has gathered momentum over the intervening twelve months and is being reinforced by evidence that is coming out at the official inquiry. At the services to be held today there will be an almost palpable feeling of bitterness for some. It will not serve any purpose, of course, but it will give something to focus negative feelings on as the 29 are remembered and grieved for. I think the wonder will be how few will actually voice that blame and bitterness, at least for today. Today is for coming together, again, and sharing thoughts for and memories of the men whose remains still lie deep underground in the Paparoa Ranges.
R.I.P. Conrad Adams, Malcolm Campbell, Glen Cruse, Allan Dixon, Zen Drew, Chris Duggan, Joseph Dunbar, John Hale, Dan Herk, Dave Hoggart, Richard Holling, Andrew Hurren, Koos Jonker, Bill Joynson, Riki Keane, Terry Kitchin, Francis Marden, Sam Mackie, Michael Monk, Stuart Mudge, Kane Nieper, Peter O’Neill, Milt Osborne, Brendon Palmer, Ben Rockhouse, Peter Rodger, Blair Sims, Josh Ufer, Keith Valli.