Pike River dead remembered a decade on

Ben McKay
·2-min read

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has led tributes to the 29 men killed in New Zealand's worst modern day workplace accident, the Pike River Mine explosion, a decade on.

In a pointedly political service in Wellington and at the mine portal in the rugged hills of the West Coast mountains, commemorative ceremonies marked their passing and legacies.

Anna Osborne, family representative spokeswoman, said parliament's staging for Thursday's acknowledgement was fitting.

"This is where so many decisions were made that led to this tragedy ... It is changes here in this house that can stop this happening again," she said.

Family gatherings were held in Australia, Scotland and South Africa.

Ms Ardern addressed her comments to the families, calling their loss "gut-wrenching, unimaginable and devastating".

"What happened at Pike River should not have happened," she said.

"In the drive towards coal production ... there was insufficient action to health and safety.

"New Zealand stands with you and the Pike 29."

The service played footage and audio of the miners' communications during the blast, prompting families to cry and comfort each other.

Ms Osborne was then joined by Sonya Rockhouse and Rowdy Durbridge, who lost sons in the blast, to read the names of the dead.

Those names included Australians Josh Ufer and William Joynson.

A Royal Commission into the disaster found improper methane management led to the explosion, a disregard from management for workers' welfare.

Ms Osborne said the "needless" deaths, including that of her husband Milton, took up "every second of my last 10 years".

"Families need justice. They must get their day in court," she said between tears.

"Milt. I love you. And I am sorry that the system let you down."

A long battle from the victims' families, including a 2016 blockade of the site, led Ms Ardern's government to re-enter the mine drift two years ago.

As of this week, it has travelled all but 100 metres into the 2.2km mine.

The re-entry team will complete its restorative and explorative mission early next year.

Minister Andrew Little told AAP the possibility of finding traces of the men was "remote" but he was pleased to support campaigning families.

"The families were being told it was too dangerous to go in. The minute I became a minister and got the reports, well none of the reports said it was too dangerous to do it," he said.

"They said 'it is dangerous but here's how you can do it safely'.

"It's satisfying. In terms of the promise made to do whatever we could to better explain what happened, we have fulfilled that promise."

In October last year, families were given a first - and last - chance to venture 170 metres into the drift to say their final goodbyes before the restoration team took over.

Two walking trails have been built to commemorate the deaths: the Pike29 Memorial Track and three-day Paparoa Track.