Pike River Mine explosion

CoverOn 19 November 2010, just after 3:44pm, there was an explosion in the Pike River Mine, 46 kilometres north of Greymouth, New Zealand. Over the next ten days, three more explosions took place. Twenty nine miners died in the mine.

What happened?

The coal mine – which was owned by Pike River Coal at the time of the disaster – opened in 2008.

The first explosion

On 19 November 2010, just after 3:44pm, an explosion occurred in the mine.

Two miners, who were near the entrance, were able to walk out of the mine. The remaining 29 miners were at least a kilometre and a half deep inside the mine when the explosion occurred.

Rescue teams rushed to the mine, but didn’t go inside because of the danger of more explosions. The explosion had damaged a gas pipe that was responsible for removing dangerous gases, resulting in a build up of methane in the mine.

Three robots with cameras entered the mine, to try to get more information about conditions inside it. Two bomb disposal robots from the New Zealand Defence Force and one from a Western Australia wastewater company were used, but didn’t manage to get very deep into the mine. Their cameras showed that the mine was very damaged.

The rescue teams were still waiting for conditions to improve so that they could rescue the trapped miners, when a second explosion happened.

More explosions

The second explosion took place on 24 November 2010 at 2:37pm. After this second explosion, all believed that there was no possibility that any of the 29 miners had survived.

Two more explosions also occurred. The fourth explosion started a fire that could be seen coming out of one of the vents at the top of the mine.

Tests showed that the levels of methane gas in the mine were so great that it was impossible to enter it safely, so efforts to recover the bodies of the miners were stopped.

Events and outcomes

A public memorial service was held on 2 December 2010 at Omoto Racecourse. It was broadcast live on TV.

Throughout 2011, the families of the victims continued asking for the miners’ bodies to be recovered. In May 2012, after meetings with mining experts, the majority of the families stopped this quest to retrieve the remains of the miners.

At the end of 2010, the mine went out of business. Solid Energy purchased the mine in July 2012.


Following an investigation by New Zealand Police and the Department of Labour Pike River Coal Limited (in receivership), VLI Drilling Pty Limited (Valley Longwall International) and Mine CEO Peter William Whittall were prosecuted under the Health Safety and Employment Act. Whittall had acted as Mine spokesperson during the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, giving updates at televised press conferences and for most of New Zealand was recognisable as the face of the Pike River disaster.

In 2013 Pike River Coal was ordered to pay $110,000 for each victim of the disaster to their families but only paid $5000 each due to lack of funds. 

Valley Longwall International who lost 3 employees in the disaster pleaded guilty in 2012 and was fined $46,800. 

Peter Whittall intially entered not guilty pleas against his charges which were later dropped and instead he and Pike River Coal made a voluntary payment of $3.41 million to the families and two survivors. In 2017 the New Zealand Supreme Court ruled that the arrangement by WorkSafe to drop all charges against Whittall was unlawful.

Royal Commission of Enquiry

A Royal Commission of Enquiry was conducted into the disaster. Some of the people who testified said that safety procedures were not being done properly and that they thought the mine was unsafe. The final report was released to the public on 5 November 2012 and, later that day, Kate Wilkinson resigned as Minister of Labour.

In December 2012, Prime Minister John Key personally apologised to the families of the victims. In an earlier letter to them, he wrote On behalf of the Government, I want to reiterate my apology to the families, friends and loved ones of the deceased men for the role this lack of regulatory effectiveness played in the tragedy.

Pike River Coal Limited convicted of breaching Health and Safety Act

In April 2013, Pike River Coal Limited was convicted of nine charges of breaching the Health and Safety Act. It was ordered to pay $110,000 to the family of each victim and survivor. It was also fined $760,000.

Valley Longwall International Drilling Limited earlier pleaded guilty to three charges of breaching the Health and Safety Act. Peter Withall, the former Chief Executive of Pike River Coal, pleaded not guilty to twelve charges of breaching the Health and Safety Act. These charges were all brought by the Department of Labour.

Pike River Recovery Agency 

The Pike River Recovery Agency / Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa was established as a stand-alone government department by Order in Council on 31 January 2018 to work with the families of those lost in the mine disaster and "to plan for decisions on the manned re-entry of the Pike River mine drift". The Agency was tasked with recovering remains and gathering evidence on the cause of the explosion in order to prevent future disasters. Once the Pike River site had been "rehabilitated" the Agency would be disestablished and the site returned to the Department of Conservation in June 2020.

On 21 May 2019 an Agency recovery team breached the concrete seal to the mine drift, 170m inside the mine entrance. Family of the lost miners were able to enter the mine to this point. 

On 10 June 2020, Minister for Pike Mine Re-entry Andrew Little announced that it was "impractical" to expect the remains of the fallen miners to be recovered and that the focus of the Agency would now be on gathering evidence in support of the New Zealand Police investigation. Later that year a group representing 20 Pike River families blocked the mine access road in order to prevent the Agency from permanently closing the mine. A legal challenge was also made by the families to prevent the mine being sealed.

Bore hole drilling and investigation

In November 2021 using bore holes and specialised cameras New Zealand Police were able to locate the remains of two men and by June 2023 the remains of up to 12 of the 29 miners had been located using this method. Detective Superintendent Darryl Sweeney said of the images that they seemed to confirm that the men died in an “instantaneous event”.

The Police's criminal investigation, which families hope will lead to charges being laid, continues.

No remains have yet been recovered.

Remembering Pike River

Information and sources


Print this page