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A Scotsman, a kid who had just turned 17, a district councillor, a rugby league player. Fathers, sons, brothers, mates.
Twenty-nine men. Twenty-nine lives cut short.
Ten years ago tomorrow, the Pike River mine tragedy — New Zealand’s worst mining disaster since 1914, and at the time the worst single loss of life since the Erebus crash — changed the lives of 29 families forever.
The same families are still looking for answers as to why their men did not come home.
When the methane explosion turned the West Coast coal mine into a death trap, it set in motion a decade of suffering, confusion, investigation and political machinations.
A Royal Commission inquiry found there were "multiple operational and systemic issues with Pike River Coal".
Further, the inquiry found "the company had a history of over-promising and under-delivering. Coal production was years behind schedule, and a lack of money was driving the company to find further funding."
The Department of Labour’s oversight was lax, and as a result the miners were exposed to "unacceptable risks", as warnings about dangerous methane levels in the mine went unheeded.
Most pointedly, the Royal Commission found that the tragedy was preventable. It later made sweeping recommendations covering regulation and mining legislation.
In the midst of despair came some light. The famously robust Coast community came together to support the grieving family members of the miners, and the strength and character of those family members was a consistent inspiration.
The bodies of the men have still not been recovered. The full cause of the disaster has not been established. Justice for the 29 has not been achieved.
So, as the nation prepares to stop at 3.44pm tomorrow to mark 10 years since the disaster, it is fair to hope the process of re-entry can end in some answers.
The $50million recovery mission, prompted by the establishment of a new government agency after the 2017 election, has nearly reached 2km into the mine.
We must hope that mission ends in as much success as possible. The men are gone, but the possibility of finding their remains — and of uncovering evidence that may lead to charges being laid, and some justice gained for their wrongful deaths — means the re-entry project has to be given as many resources, and as much time, as it needs, within reason.
Tomorrow will be a difficult day for the families. November 19 is a black day for them.
Hopefully, there will be a day soon that brings some closure — or as much as possible.
It is time for justice for the 29.