SYDNEY – Family members of the 29 miners who were killed in a New Zealand coal mine accident in 2010 entered the mine drift for the first time on Thursday.
The authorities have recently launched efforts to recover the remains of those killed in the accident from the site, located near the town of Greymouth on South Island.
The family members descended in small groups 170 meters (558 feet) into the drift and left flowers at the mound that blocks the 2.3-kilometer (1.4-mile) long tunnel leading to the Pike River mine that was damaged following a series of gas explosions in 2010.
The Pike River Recovery Agency shared pictures on Twitter of Anna Osbourne – who lost her husband Milton in the tragedy – and Sonya Rockhouse, whose son Ben was killed in the accident. Both were part of the first group to enter the mine drift in a driftrunner.
“We were able to put our hands on the seal and I was able to talk to Milton and I almost felt him there,” Osbourne told state broadcaster Radio New Zealand.
Osbourne and Rockhouse have been at the forefront of the campaign to recover the victims’ remains nine years after the accident.
The authorities are working to move in through the tunnel to recover the bodies but they still have not received the go-ahead from safety regulator Worksafe.
The re-entry into the mine, which was initially scheduled for February, was postponed several times owing to safety concerns following a year of preparations by the PRRA.
The Pike River tragedy claimed the lives of 29 miners, 23 of them New Zealanders, as well as three British, two Australians and one South African citizen aged between 17 and 62.
The miners were reportedly killed by trauma, burns or asphyxiation after the methane gas explosion buried them 2.5 km deep within a tunnel that lacked an alternative access.
Five days later, they were declared to be presumed dead after a second explosion rocked the site, making it the second-deadliest mining accident in New Zealand’s history.