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Families seek Pike River reconsideration

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 8/11/2016 Sean Martin

Families of many of the 29 men killed in the Pike River Mine disaster have appealed for the mine drift to be re-opened, raising the possibility that the bodies of the victims could be recovered almost six years later.

Next Saturday marks the anniversary of the incident when an explosion ripped through the mine.

The mine's owner, Solid Energy, decided in 2014 it was too dangerous to enter and the disappointed families of the victims accepted the decision.

But Bernie Monk, a spokesman for many of the victim's families, contacted the Department of Conservation on Tuesday asking for that view to be reconsidered.

"Work presently being undertaken vindicates the position of the families' experts, that it can be done with due consideration to the safety and welfare through minimising any risk to an acceptable level of those who may be directly involved," he said in a letter to deputy director general Bruce Parkes, acting as liaison between the families and Prime Minister John Key.

He said non-mining contractors and personnel had been working in fresh air at 170 metres, the point where the mine is sealed, without the need for breathing apparatus.

This was despite a risk assessment saying it couldn't be done, he said.

In parliament on Tuesday NZ First MP Ron Mark backed the call, saying recent rest results showed gas levels in the mine were safe enough for re-entry.

He asked Mr Key whether he would take steps to recover the bodies.

Mr Key said advice from Solid Energy was that the environment inside the mine had not materially changed since the decision not to re-enter it was made.

"The decision to enter or not enter the mine is not one which politicians should make, nor have I ever claimed I could make," he said.

"One of the worst things we could do is put the lives of fellow New Zealanders at risk as a result of the tragedy."

Labour MP Damien O'Connor asked why the government wouldn't fund an independent expert to assess the situation.

Mr Key said he believed he had met all his commitments to the families.

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