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After eight years and 141 days - and a false start three weeks ago
- a team finally stepped back inside the Pike River mine yesterday.
As a team of three walked in about 50m, at 10.30am, the gathering of families and supporters assembled at the mine portal let up a collective whoop.
Work then began around the 30m seal.
Family members caught buses to the site for a private gathering, this time without the glare of media at the mine site.
Sonya Rockhouse lost her 21-year-old son, Ben, in the November 2010 disaster, which also claimed the lives of 28 other men.
Speaking after the entrance was opened for the first time, Ms Rockhouse said it ''hit me in my heart'' to stand there and watch the doors open.
''And to think, all this might never have happened if we hadn't blockaded the sealing of the drift and if New Zealand hadn't stood with us. It's just incredible.''
''Watching those doors open and seeing the light enter that dark tunnel for the first time in years was incredibly emotional,'' Mrs Osborne said.
''We've known we are going back in for a year now - today it feels like it. This is the start of a journey that will end with truth and justice.''
Once the re-entry starts in earnest, it will only cover 30 or 40m at a time and the drift is 2.3km long.
On May 3, a celebration planned around the re-entry was called off at the last minute, due to a faulty detector picking up elevated gas levels in a borehole.
It involves exploring the drift, or stone tunnel.
Only the final 400m of the drift has not been seen since the 2010 explosions, which brought down a massive rockfall, blocking the way into the actual mine workings where the bodies are believed to be lying.
The re-entry is intended mainly to recover potential evidence showing what caused the explosions.
The families hope that might eventually lead to court action to hold someone to account for the deaths.
-Additionally reported by NZME