The Dominion-Post's editorial this morning is devoted to the ongoing situation at the Pike River mine. It is, of course, back in the news with the sale of the mine by receivers to Solid Energy, and the statement by the SOE's boss that body recovery is still some way off; check this out:
Nearly 18 months have passed since the Pike River mining disaster claimed the lives of 29 men. During that time, the families of those killed have never lost hope that the bodies of their loved ones would be brought out and given proper burials.Unfortunately, it is now time for them to accept the sad reality that it might never be safe enough to attempt a recovery operation, and that their men might rest forever inside the mine.The agreement that saw Solid Energy buy the assets of Pike River Coal from the company's receivers last week includes a commitment to try to retrieve the bodies, provided it can be done so safely, is technically feasible and financially credible. Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder has angered the families of the dead men by insisting no attempt will be made before commercial mining operations can resume at the site something that might not be possible for up to eight years, if at all.The families of those killed say Solid Energy's position flies in the face of promises, including from Prime Minister John Key, that cost was not the issue when it came to trying to get the bodies out.Spokesman Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael, has also warned that the families would physically try to stop the state-owned enterprise taking coal from the site if mining began before the bodies were recovered.The distress caused by the continued inability to get to the men is understandable. Anyone who has lost a close relative knows that being able to lay them to rest properly is an important part of the grieving process. The Pike River families have shown admirable dignity during their agonising vigil.However, when it comes to recovering the Pike River 29, there are many challenges, some of them seemingly impossible to overcome. The mine remains a highly volatile and unpredictable environment. It was the scene of four huge explosions and a fire that burned fiercely for weeks after the disaster, and is likely to be just a breath of oxygen or a spark away from another inferno. Stabilising it presents significant technical problems.Dr Elder says the situation is so hazardous that no attempt can be made to get the men out until a whole new mine is constructed and operational, to allow the necessary safety features to be in place. The rock bottom $7.5 million price Solid Energy paid for Pike River underlines the fact that millions more would have to be spent to make that possible, with no guarantee of success.
We can't help but wonder if it is ever going to be possible to recover the bodies of the Pike River 29, however essential that is seen to be (and rightly so) by their families. Cost ought not be the primary factor, but safety most certainly is.
Evidence to the Royal Commission has not painted the mine's owners and managers in a flattering light. Without prejudging the Royal Commission's findings, it seems to us that Pike River was an accident waiting to happen. Whilst recovering the bodies of the dead miners and contractors is a desirable outcome, there must not be further loss of life during any recovery process, whenever that can be initiated. We are sure that even the grieving families would accept that.