Sealing off New Zealand’s Pike River Coal mine tragedy – by Ean Higgins (The Australian – November 19, 2015)

It consumed $NZ290 million in investment, huge amounts of sweat and tears, and five years ago today, the lives of 29 men, including two Australians. Now the Pike River Coal mine is starting to disappear back into the primordial forest of the moody Paparoa Ranges, having produced hardly any coal in commercial quantities.

The bodies of the Pike 29, as they are known locally, and the secrets of how they met their end are in the process of being locked away forever.

But for many of the families of those who died, and the New Zealand union movement, there’s no closure. Many who lost loved ones feel betrayed by the government of John Key, who committed to “getting the boys out”.

And they hope to find out soon whether the mining engineer who designed and ran the Pike River Coal mine, Australian Peter Whittall, still will be ordered to face quasi-criminal charges for allegedly breaching health and safety regulations.

With the approach of the fifth anniversary today of the first massive explosion at the mine, the New Zealand government and its instrumentalities are trying to close the last chapter. They would like the nation to move on from a tragedy that touched all New Zealanders, and the tough “Coasters” of the west coast of the South Island in particular.

Pike River Coal went into receivership weeks after the explosion on November 19, 2010, blew the top off the ventilation shaft at the underground mine at the top of a mountain and sent a massive fireball towering into the air.

Bit by bit across the past few weeks, the new owner, state-owned Solid Energy, which bought the mine in 2012, has been dismantling the site and selling off any elements worth buying.

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