You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
No matter the anguish of many of the families of the 29 who died in the mine explosions and no matter their heroic battle to discover what happened and to find the remains of their loved ones, there must be limits.
In the aftermath of the tragedy 11 years ago, Prime Minister John Key said his government was committed to getting the bodies out. But National backed away for what were described as safety and practical reasons.
The issue was politicised during the 2017 election.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said he would be the first to walk into the mine. Labour also promised to do everything possible to recover any remains, building on the public sympathy for the families and the failure to properly understand the causes or hold anyone criminally accountable.
The Pike River Recovery Agency was set up. The original 2017 cost estimate was $23million. This was bumped to $36million and then last year to $47million with a $4million contingency. So far $48.3million has been spent.
The Labour-led Government first said it would assess what was involved in accessing the mine’s main workings once it had got through the 2.3km entrance tunnel. In March last year, Pike River Recovery Minister Andrew Little said work would finish at the rockfall short of those main workings.
And in March this year a statement from the Pike River Family Reference Group, which was said to represent the families of 27 men who died, said advice was accepted that going further was too expensive and complex and that there was no more money.
Soon after, the Pike River Family Committee, separate to the reference group, rejected the statement and said three-quarters of the families wanted to self-fund a study into recovering the mine’s primary ventilation fan, 130m into the main workings.
That has been undertaken in conjunction with an international expert. The extra cost in the mine was put at another $10million and the time involved at eight weeks. Mr Little’s advice, meanwhile, is about $25million and 10 months. This would include further major health and safety clearances.
Recent confirmation the mine is to be sealed and the area handed over to the Department of Conservation has prompted a judicial review. This was filed last Friday, from a group saying they represented 23 of the families.
The review is to try to stop the sealing of the mine, and family members have said they will not tire of fighting.
It is Mr Little’s turn to be accused of broken promises. He has, though, maintained the commitment was just for the entrance tunnel and an assessment.
The Recovery Agency has claimed the re-entry was primarily about discovering forensic evidence and that important information was uncovered.
One doubts, nevertheless, whether this will be that significant, however much the agency and the minister endeavour to justify the work carried out so far.
One wonders if, all along, the chances of useful discovery were minimal given the effort and costs incurred.
Everyone cannot but feel sympathy for the families in their loss and in their frustration at the failure to discover causes and nail home accountability.
But there must be limits.
Extraordinary and expensive efforts have been made over three-plus years to re-enter the mine. It is time to seal the mine and for Doc to complete its work.
The mine will be the mausoleum for the 29. The Great Walk Paparoa Track has been constructed because of the tragedy and in consultation with the families and is an ongoing memorial.
It is time for the completion of the extension of the track, the Pike29 Memorial Track, to the mine site itself.