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New Zealand police discover bodies 11 years after Pike River mine disaster

17 November 2021

On November 17, New Zealand police announced that at least two bodies had been found deep inside the Pike River Mine, 11 years after a series of methane explosions killed 29 men there. No bodies have ever been recovered. Using boreholes and specialist cameras, police said that images had been captured of two bodies, plus a possible third.

Pike River action group road-block, 2017 - Image: Shutterstock
Pike River action group road-block, 2017 - Image: Shutterstock

The images were taken deep within the mine, located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Just two of the 31 men who were working in the mine at the time of the blasts were able to escape. It is believed the 29 men who died were located at least 1.5 kilometres away from the mine’s entrance. Police have said that due to the location of the remains deep within the mine, they would not be able to recover the bodies.

A Royal Commission released a report into the disaster in 2012 and found that the miners and contractors had been exposed to unacceptable levels of risk and that there had been numerous warnings of a potential catastrophe at the mine.

“It has been nearly 11 years since the Pike River Mine disaster where 29 men tragically lost their lives. These images will add to the picture of the investigation as we work to provide answers for the families,” Detective Superintendent Peter Read said in a statement. “At this point we have been unable to identify the remains however we will consult with forensic experts. Based on our investigation we believe there were six to eight men working in the area where the remains have been located.

"I would like to acknowledge the support from Pike River Recovery Agency staff and our drilling and mining experts who have supported the borehole drilling operation and assisted us with this discovery,” Detective Superintendent Read added.

Police began an additional borehole drilling programme June which has enabled digital scanning and photography of the conditions in the mine near the boreholes. The drilling programme remains ongoing and is due to be completed before the end of the year.

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