Pike River recovery nears end of mission

Ben McKay
·2-min read

Erika Ufer calls her father the 'man in the mountain'.

The nine-year-old never got to meet her dad, Josh Ufer, who was one of two Australians among 29 killed in the Pike River Mining disaster.

Erika's mother, Rachelle Weaver was three months pregnant at the time of the explosion - which occurred 10 years ago on Thursday.

"I have no memories of my dad," Ms Ufer told Kea Kids News.

"I call him the man in the mountain because he died in the mountain and now his spirits haunt the mountain.

"I think he would be a funny, energetic and thoughtful dad. But enough of that or it's going to make me cry."

The pair visit the memorial each year, leaving homemade tributes and posing for photographs alongside a rock inscribed with Mr Ufer's name, nestled nest to a koala statue holding a can of the energy drink V.

On Thursday, they'll be joined by thousands of other New Zealanders, at commemorations at the rugged South Island mine site and at parliament, to remember the Pike River dead.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will lead tributes in Wellington, with flags at half mast and a minute's silence observed at 3:44pm.

At the drift, in the Paparoa Ranges, family members will conduct a roll call for the lost miners, before retreating to a nearby pub.

Outside of that solemn moment, the mine drift is as busy as it's been in ten years.

Work continues apace in the contentious $NZ52 million ($A49 million) re-entry project, which is just metres from the 2240m rockfall - the site of the tragedy.

"As of this morning, we're 2153 metres into the drift. There's not much left to go," Dinghy Pattinson, the chief operating officer for the recovery mission, tells AAP.

"My schedule is to be at the rockfall by the end of this year."

The mine drift's restoration is being done for three reasons; to better understand the disaster and gather evidence, to give closure to families, and to restore any human remains where possible.

It's painstaking work.

The engineering effort is complex, with a constant flow of nitrogen into the mine to safeguard against further explosion.

"We've had the plant running since October 2018 and pumped 10 million cubic metres of nitrogen in there," Mr Pattinson said.

Next is the replacement of a temporary 'plug' along the rockfall with a solid concrete wall and steel doors, and a return to the 'pit bottom in stone', the site of most interest to investigators.

Mr Pattinson doesn't know whether there will be human remains near the rockfall or at the pit bottom in stone, but believes the operation should be seen as a success regardless.

"There were a lot of people out there who said this job should not be done, it's not safe to do. We've proven them wrong," he said.