6 November 2014
Solid Energy’s decision not to re-enter the Pike River mine is awful, horrific and tragic – especially for the families concerned – but is almost certainly correct in the circumstances.
That is a painful thing to say and will understandably not be well received by the affected families, who have been allowed to cling to the hope of recovery since the very first day of the tragedy. I fully understand that, and am by no means confident that I would think any differently were I in their position.
Whatever way one views it, Pike River has been an unmitigated tragedy at every level in the needless loss of the lives of the 29 miners, the prevarication and obfuscation in the immediate aftermath of the explosions, the revelations about the company’s lax management and safety standards, and the too many false dawns of hope the grieving families have been given. It is far too much expect decent people to bear, yet they have done so with remarkable bravery and stoic dignity. But, sadly, now it is time to move on.
The latest edition of the New Zealand Geographic magazine captures the situation starkly and well in its article “The Uncompromising Chemistry of Tragedy”. In a dispassionate way, it describes the chemical reactions that occurred at the time of the explosions, the immediate impact they would have had on the miners, and the risks and level of the buildup of methane gases in the mineshaft. It makes it all too clear how forlorn the hope of recovery would be in a virtual incinerator. It is compelling reading.
At a broader level, the article makes it clear that the way in which the families were treated immediately afterwards, while probably intended as sympathetic, in fact created a situation where precisely the opposite has been the case. The hope given to the families from the outset has now been shown to have been false – and to have been so from day one. Hope can often be a powerful stimulant, but false hope is never more than a cruel hoax.
So, where to from here to give the families the sense of closure and solace they have been seeking and deserve? I suggest that the formal designation of the mine site and its surrounds as a recognised grave site and memorial to the memory of the men would be appropriate.
The Pike River families have paid a dreadful price for their men’s careers. One way of helping them move forward would be to stop the litanies of false hopes and half truths they have been subjected to over recent years. Formally declaring the mine site as an official grave site is a way we can recognise that while their men are not coming back they are being allowed to rest in peace, with the dignity and respect that they deserve.