FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Pike River Realities?

On the gate leading to the mine where the Pike River families have staged their protest, there is a sign which reads CRIME SCENE.

Corporate manslaughter

By Roger Childs

pike-river-bookRebecca Macfie’s brilliant analysis of the 2010 mining disaster will be well known to many readers.  In Tragedy at Pike River Mine she demonstrated conclusively that it was corporate manslaughter that took the lives of 29 men. However, the individual most responsible, Peter Whittall, got off scot-free. (To see KIN’s review of the book SEARCH above for Pike River. It’s the January 16, 2015 article.)

One of John Key’s government’s greatest failings was to allow the perpetrators to get away with it. The Solicitor General should have nailed Whittall and his colleagues.

Understandably, the main focus of the Pike River families today centres on recovering the remains of their loved ones. However, has emotion clouded their judgement on what is realistic?

Hearts go out to the loved ones

Manyy believe Peter Whitthall should be in jail
Many believe Peter Whitthall should be in jail

There is nationwide sympathy for the families of the 29 men. They would be still alive today if the Pike River Coal Company had not been hell-bent on taking short cuts, ignoring warning signs  and failing to provide worker health and safety. All in a bid to extract black coal from the Paparoa Range to keep their shareholders and investors happy.

The families led by Bernie Monk have battled with the various mine owners and the government, to allow re-entry into the mine, to retrieve the remains of their husbands and sons.

John Key, who was all sympathy at the time and spoke at the funerals, has let them down badly. They are now trying to lobby Bill English for action, but he too is passing the buck.

Not a goer?

Some relatives of the mine victims have been to Wellington to present a new plan by international experts who say it is safe to  re-enter the mine.

pike-river-locationSome readers would have seen the recent docudrama about Pike River and will recall that it was estimated the second explosion reached temperatures of 3000° C!

The sad reality is that probably such extreme heat would have left nothing but ashes of the unfortunate men caught in the blasts. Add to that the likelihood of there being massive rock falls in the shafts.

It might be safe to re-enter the mine, drill through the rock and siphon off the deadly methane, but the cost would be prohibitive. Furthermore, what would be the odds of finding any human remains?

One can understand the families wanting “closure” by retrieving what remains. However, even in the highly unlikely possibility that there are any, there are probably buried under tonnes of rubble.

An appropriate memorial to the brave men

The memorial to the Brunner miners (Photo by Pam Childs)
The memorial to the Brunner miners (Photo by Pam Childs)

About 50km south of Pike River, 65 men were killed in the Brunner Mine disaster of March 1896. The mine was subsequently closed and an impressive memorial was erected to the miners near the site.

While appreciating the plight of the families in battling with officialdom, it is probably time to accept that the mine should be sealed and erect a suitable memorial to the 29 men who were needlessly killed.

The least the government can do is to pay for this, and look at reopening the case against the perpetrators of the biggest crime in recent New Zealand history.

At least the Health and Safety Laws have been changed, but that is cold comfort for the relatives of the 29.