May 21, 2019 / 3:50 AM / a month ago

New Zealand investigators re-enter disaster-stricken mine after eight years

FILE PHOTO: A flame burns from the end of a ventilation shaft of the Pike River coal mine near Greymouth on New Zealand's west coast November 30, 2010. REUTERS/The Press/Iain McGregor/Pool

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Mining experts on Tuesday re-entered a coal mine shuttered for more than eight years after one of New Zealand’s worst industrial disasters killed 29 men, the government said, looking to investigate the cause and retrieve the remains of victims.

A series of blasts ignited by methane gas ripped through the Pike River Mine on the west coast of the South Island in November 2010, trapping 31 men, though two managed to escape.

Safety concerns prompted the previous government to rule out re-entry, despite opposition from the families of miners.

“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability,” Andrew Little, the minister responsible for the operation, said in an email.

“That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise.”

Families of the men gathered near the mine entrance as the experts entered, the statement added, an event delayed beyond an initial date of May 3 because of concerns over oxygen levels.

“Watching those doors open and seeing the light enter that dark tunnel for the first time in years was incredibly emotional,” Anna Osbourne, whose husband died in the accident, said in an emailed statement.

“This is the start of a journey that will end with truth and justice.”

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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