Bodies found in Pike River mine; families 'gutted'

Human remains have been discovered at Pike River, 11 years after explosions tore through the West Coast mine, killing 29 men.

Detective Superintendent Peter Read spoke to media in Christchurch about the development this afternoon.

Read said police had notified families of the victims that images taken during borehole investigations confirmed two deaths.

"Two bodies with the possibility of a third body as well," he said.

The bodies are in the "furthest part of the mine from then entrance".

The "very, very clear" images have been reviewed by a pathologist. Police have not identified the remains yet, but are continuing to work with forensic investigators to try to do so.

It is not possible for police to recover the bodies.

The images would not be released publicly out of respect to the families and the investigation.

Read said he had learned "quite a bit" from the imagery taken from the boreholes.

The images were taken late last week from a new borehole.

Read would not say whether the men appeared to have died in the first or second explosion, nor would he speculate on whether the find would help establish the cause of the initial explosion.

"Experts were poring over these images over the weekend ... we only got the confirmation this morning," Read said.

He said given it had been 11 years since the explosion, the condition of the bodies was "as you would expect".

The borehole would be reimaged, weather permitting, later this week, Read said.

Over the last 11 years technology had improved significantly, and that - paired with current expert advice and the recovery of the drift - had enabled this development, Read said.

"It's not unexpected, we know there's 29 men down there and we're drilling boreholes where we know people were working.

"We still haven't finished the boreholes yet so there is a possibility there might be more [bodies found] - we can't rule that out."

Read would not be drawn on whether a prosecution was imminent.

He said the investigation was ongoing.

The news comes just two days before the anniversary of the tragedy.

'I'm angry and gutted'

Bernie Monk, whose son Michael died in the mine, found out about the discovery only today and is furious at what he calls a cover-up.

Monk believes the government, along with WorkSafe, police, and the FRG (Families Reference Group) have "let us down".

"I did my crying 10 years ago mate," he said.

"I'm angry and gutted that the government departments have done this to us, after all the work and expertise that we've put in place to help them.

"If we go right back, we were the ones who showed them the self-rescue boxes open; we were the ones who showed the bodies of the men in early 2011; we're the ones who brought in the expertise led by Tony Forster from overseas and Richard Healy and Dean Dunbar from New Zealand and told them everything about what happened at Pike River, and they've taken absolutely no notice of us."

Families have been "stabbed in the heart" by the news.

Monk said family members have been phoning him today in tears wondering if the remains were their loved ones.

"They're absolutely crucifying them," he said.

"Where is the transparency in all this? There's been none.

"This has been a complete cover-up. The government departments have just covered this up, hoping that we'd go away."

Rowdy Durbridge, whose son Dan was working in the area of the mine where remains have been identified, says that the discovery is a shock.

"You know the guys are down there but to know they have been seen, it hits you hard, eh," he said.

"We've fought hard for years now to get justice for our boys, and this is part of it happening.

"This is why we worked so hard to negotiate these boreholes and we'll be supporting the police in whatever way we can to take this further if it needs to happen."

Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the disaster, said the families have seen images from the borehole project and others will see them at a presentation tonight.

"We can't talk about the details of what we've seen because we don't want to put any future prosecution at risk, but we can say that what we've seen is starting to give real clarity about what happened down there," she said.

"This is an incredibly emotional day for all of us."

The Pike River Recovery Agency (PRRA) completed its $50 million re-entry of the mine's access tunnel to try and recover remains and find any forensic clues earlier this year.

It had been due to permanently seal the mine while police were part way through their borehole investigations.

But some Pike River families who lost loved ones, and had fought for years to try and get authorities to try and find their bodies, launched legal action to try and stop it from happening.

 

 

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