Minister says “very low probability of recovery” of Pike River bodies

Andrew Little, the Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, has said what was obvious to many people, there “very low probability of recovery” of bodies from the Pike River mine. This is despite the cost of re-entry doubling, but Little also says he won’t seek any more funds.

NZ Herald – Pike River: Andrew Little says it is ‘just impractical’ to expect all bodies to be recovered

Andrew Little, says it is “just impractical” to expect the remains of all of the fallen miners to be recovered.

Instead, the re-entry efforts are now essentially solely focused on gathering evidence in the “homicide of 29 men”, Little told a select committee hearing this morning.

Speaking to MPs this morning, Little also revealed that there would be no further funding for re-entry.

“There is always a limit to these things – I have no plan or intention of returning to Cabinet for any further additional resources.”

He likened the recovery efforts to a police homicide investigation – “which is effectively what this is”.

He said the average homicide investigation is between $2m and $3m.

“We’re looking at the homicide of 29 men.”

This sounds like a new justification for the expense from Little.

Little said the cost to date can be justified, because this was a “tragedy that did not need to happen”.

He added… the re-entry efforts are focused on gathering evidence to help with the prosecution of those responsible for the death of the miners.

The goal, Little said, was to get to the pit bottom in stone where evidence – including instrumentation panels which will help determine the cause of the explosion – will likely be.

He said bringing the remains home was no longer an objective of the re-entry – he said it was “just impractical” given the complex technicalities of the mine’s geography.

But in terms of recovery of human remains, Little said he has always maintained there is a very low probability of recovery.

“I would put it as more than remote – but it is very low.”

I think that’s been obvious for a long time.

Stuff 2016: Winston Peters says Pike River re-entry is bottom line to election deals

Winston Peters says re-entering Pike River mine is a “bottom line” to any election deal made next year.

“I’m making no bones about it, we’ll give these people a fair-go, and yes this is a bottom line, and it shouldn’t have to be.”

“I didn’t want to be the first back in, I said when you have the first crew lining up to go back in, I’m offering to go,” Peters said.

Labour leader Andrew Little vowed he would do everything he could to open the site for re-entry should  Labour  be elected at the next election. Little had seen the report and spoken to experts personally, and he felt it was possible to enter the mine.

Winston Peters (Facebook) 2016:

My letter of support to the Pike River families.

We meet here today at New Zealand’s Parliament in saddened circumstances which should not be happening.

The tragedy of Pike River has been worsened by the aftermath of promises made to you that simply have not been kept.
You want to re-enter the mine tunnel, and to the extent that circumstances allow, find out as much as can be discovered and, more particularly, bring out any of your men where that is possible.

From the expert opinion which you have, and from generations of practical experience of the mining industry, you believe it is possible to re-enter.

So does New Zealand First.

You are not dissuaded by the bureaucratic, commercial and governmental roadblocks put in your way under the guise of protecting safety. Neither is New Zealand First.

As in the past we offer our complete support for the families to find out what they want to know. That is the only honest, decent, fair and correct thing to do.

As someone with some experience of working underground, in this case 11 miles underground as a “second-class miner” on the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and aware of some of the dangers, where on that project they lost a man a mile, I am that confident in the expert advice that you have that I am offering to be on the first party that goes back in.

Yours sincerely
Winston Peters

The Labour-NZ First Coalition Agreement included “Commit to re-entry to Pike River.

In November 2017 Little was appointed Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry. His first announcement: Pike River Recovery Agency established

“The purpose of the agency is to gather evidence to better understand what happened in 2010, with an eye to preventing future mining tragedies and to give the Pike River families and victims’ overdue closure and peace of mind.

“The public can be confident that we are committed to transparent and impartial decision-making, based on robust advice about feasibility, safety and cost,” Mr Little said.

30 November 2017: Pike River Recovery Agency advice released

Mr Little says the Government is committed to being open and accountable, and there will be continued transparency as work progresses on the manned re-entry of the Pike River Mine drift.

“We’ve been up front with the families and public on what we are doing and that remains important in terms of trust and confidence in this process and its robustness.  That’s the sort of openness that this Government is committed to in how we work.

19 April 2018: Andrew Little enters Pike River portal

“The Pike River disaster was a national tragedy where 29 men went to work and never came home.

“Again, I’d like to acknowledge all the families who are working in partnership with me and the Coalition Government. We owe it to those families to re-enter the drift and retrieve evidence and the remains of their loved ones,” says Andrew Little.

14 November 2018: SPEECH – Andrew Little confirms Pike River Mine Drift re-entry plan to proceed

This government – and the three parties that make it up – committed to fulfilling the original promise made to the families of the 29 miners and workers: to do everything practicably possible to re-enter the drift to recover any remains, and to better understand the cause or causes of the original explosion on 19 November 2010.

Recovering remains was suggested as the first priority,. but that was absent a few months later.

12 March 2019: Pike River Mine re-entry

“We’re hopeful that work in the drift will enable the Agency and Police to thoroughly investigate what can be found there and find clues to what caused this dreadful tragedy. This is about looking for clues to what caused the explosion that killed 29 men on 19 November 2010. The recovery operation is led by the Agency and supported by Police, who will be on site managing forensic work from the start of the re-entry,” says Andrew Little.

That linked to

What are the chances you’ll recover bodies?
The last known location of the men placed them in the mine workings beyond the roof fall, so it is unlikely that we will recover human remains.  Approximately 1600m of the drift has been examined using robots and camera footage, and about 600m is unexplored. Given it was shift change at the time of the explosion, with men going in and out, there is a possibility that human remains could be found in the drift.  As part of the detailed forensic examination, any human remains that are found will be treated and recovered with care and respect.

21 May 2019: Pike River Re-entry

More than eight years after 29 men went to work at the Pike River Coal Mine and never came home, the promise to re-enter the mine drift has been honoured.

“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability. That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise. Today we have returned,” Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little said.

That wasn’t their only promise, but body recovery seems to have been dropped.

But not entirely. From the Pike River Recovery website: Work programme


Following the 21 May 2019 re-entry, and stepping through the 170m barrier on 17 December 2019, the recovery phase has now begun. This involves gathering evidence along the 2.3km drift; and, if possible, recovering any human remains

4 December 2019: Next phase of Pike River recovery underway in time for Christmas

“This Coalition Government is delivering on its promise to the Pike River families and all New Zealanders. We need to find out as much as possible about what caused 29 men to go to work and not come home. The safe recovery of the mine drift, and its forensic examination, is part of an overdue act of justice.”

Again no mention of body recovery.

17 March 2020:  Final costs for Pike River recovery released

Andrew Little also confirmed that, as has been the scope since the start of the project, the recovery effort will not be going beyond the end of the drift and into the main mine workings.

“The Coalition government remains committed to the safe and successful recovery and forensic examination of the Pike River drift. It is important to promote accountability for what happened, to inform the ongoing criminal investigation into the tragedy, and to help prevent future tragedies,” Andrew Little said.

While this mentions “successful recovery” there is no mention of bodies or remains.

But it links to a Cabinet Paper which states:


7. The Agency was established in January 2018 to conduct a safe manned reentry and recovery of the Pike River Mine drift to:
7.1. Gather evidence to better understand what happened in 2010 with an eye to preventing future mining tragedies and promoting accountability for this mining tragedy;

7.2. Give the Pike River families and victims overdue closure and peace of mind; and

7.3. Recover human remains where possible.

But Little has now explicitly said there is “very low probability of recovery” of Pike River bodies.

I presume this has already been made clear to the families of the men killed in the mine.

Previous Post
Leave a comment


  1. Gerrit

     /  11th June 2020

    The Labour backtrack is newsworthy but so far, except for a single Herald article buried deep on their web site, no MSM has reported this.

    That “rescue money” for the media is talking far louder in silence than the Labour backtrack. This was after all a report to parliamentary select committee, what are the parliamentary reporters doing? Gazing in admiration at Ardern?

    Be interesting over the next few days if this makes headlines in the “regular” press, not just on blogs and alternative media.

    • Ray

       /  11th June 2020

      Another broken promise from the coalition.
      When are the scales going to fall from their supporters eyes.
      Polling high now but that is unlikely to last and once it starts to slip…will it be reported?

      • Duker

         /  11th June 2020

        Key broke his promise to the families as well. .
        From the video of his meeting with the families and later shown on 3 news
        “The first thing is I’m here to give you absolute reassurance, we’re committed to getting the boys out, and nothing’s going to change that. So – when people try and tell you we’re not, they’re playing, I hate to say it, but they’re playing with your emotions.

        A clear and direct promise( absolute reassurance) and doubled down by saying dont fall for those who say ‘were are not’
        In reality nothing , zero , zilich was done to get them out . Didnt even try
        and quite soon was saying
        ““I never promised anyone we would get the bodies out,”
        Of course at the time he wasnt aware of the video

        Even this puff story in NZH makes it clear there was a promise

        Saying it was ‘too dangerous’ to go into the mine was clearly a lie but spread widely enough to make it a ‘new truth’

        as for the costs compare with
        The South Canterbury Finance bailout required a extra payment of $100 mill plus to unsecured bond holders., who werent covered by Bill Englishs guarantee

        Then there is the Rena, how much is the Govt out of pocket for a ‘prohibitively expensive’ salvage , most of which is not covered by insurance

        Plenty of other instances of Key knowly making up something to cover a different truth of what he said at the time.
        Keys meeting with Putin was the same .

        • Gerrit

           /  11th June 2020

          So if Key was bad, surely that makes Little equally as bad?

          • Duker

             /  11th June 2020

            Entered the mine and made actual steps to ‘do all they can’
            Key ? ..his promise was all hot air which he reneged on within months , instead went as far as having the mine entrance and for a distance inside concreted up, only prevented by blockade by families of the road in. -that was the only ‘concrete’ action taken

  2. NOEL

     /  11th June 2020

    It was always planned to only secure the drift. From the start of was assumed that any bodies would be beyond the rockfall.
    Job done. Recover equipment and close it up.

  3. artcroft

     /  11th June 2020

    If this had been announced by National the left would be rioting. But hypocrisy rules. Anyway goodness no more funds are being fritted away on a fools errand.

    • Duker

       /  11th June 2020

      ” I’m here to give you absolute reassurance, we’re committed to getting the boys out, and nothing’s going to change that.”
      That was Keys promise …he reneged fairly quickly on that – in spite of saying absolute assurance and did NOTHING….it passed by the media at the time as well.

      • Gerrit

         /  11th June 2020

        Reiterating again that Little is as bad as Key. Both totally misled the people of New Zealand.

        I guess you are making a case for Key was worse in misleading there fore Little is the better villain and not quite as bad as Key?

        Or are you deflecting and introducing blazing squirrels; ala Blazer?

        • Duker

           /  11th June 2020

          So they really tried and failed is the same how ?
          Key never even tried at all and soon denied making any promise at all.

          The Coalition agreement was to enter the mine which has been done
          “• Commit to re-entry to Pike River.”
          It was Key who committed to getting those boys ( bodies) out, but never even arranged to do so and hid behind faked ‘too dangerous’ claims.

  4. Brian Johnston

     /  11th June 2020

    The re-entry is a false promise, bogus.
    $35 million to date.
    The public deserves to see a full break down of all costs.
    The mine was sub standard.
    Little should not be involved. The workers should never have entered the mine. As a trade unionist Little failed by not preventing entry.
    Should Little also be charged?
    This mess has to be resolved. Sack Little now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: