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Pike River Coal 'ignored warnings'

Jo at home in Zilzie with a plaque commemorating her son.
Jo at home in Zilzie with a plaque commemorating her son. Chris Ison

JOSH Ufer, a 25-year-old miner from Central Queensland, perished in the Pike River mine disaster in Greymouth, New Zealand.

As the anniversary of the explosions which killed 29 men approaches, Josh's mum Jo talks about her determination to have her son's remains removed from their mountain tomb and returned to CQ.

Part one of her story appeared in The Morning Bulletin on Saturday and told how the young miner was anxious to come home to Queensland and had complained to his family about safety standards at the coal mine.

Jo said the only reason he was in the mine when the first explosion occurred was that there had been a power failure on the Monday and he was making up for lost time.

In the 12 months since the accident, the mining company has gone into receivership and a Royal Commission has heard evidence from former employees who quit because of safety concerns.

"It appears that a number of men had spoken out, but the company had ignored warnings. If it had taken notice and acted, rather than simply trying to grab what it could, it might have saved 29 lives."

She says Greymouth is still a grief-stricken community where there is plenty of anger and a determination to get to the bottom of the how and why it happened. "We still don't know what caused the initial explosion. Was it a push for production or was it just really slack safety? Who is to blame?"

There are several potential buyers manoeuvring to buy the mine to reopen it, but Jo, who met New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, says the families are demanding that any deal includes a plan to recover the bodies so they can receive a proper farewell.

"My number one priority in all this is to get Josh out.

"My personal opinion is that I would like to see people face criminal charges. It's a crime scene and there has to be every possible effort to get in there and find out what happened."

The Royal Commission is expected to sit until the middle of next year, and on Thursday the first 25 charges connected to the disaster were laid against three un-named parties in Greymouth.

Jo has established a small memorial to her lost son in the back garden of her house in Zilzie.

She remembers him, she says, as a quiet, well-behaved child who grew into a fun-loving man who loved his life, loved Australia and loved Queensland.

"He was such fun to be around. His sister, Kymberley, is still devastated. He was her big brother, her best friend."

And yet, out of the tragedy, Jo has received the gift of a beautiful grandchild, the daughter Josh will never see.

Erika lives with Rachel in New Zealand but recently spent a month at Zilzie.

"I like to think I can see a resemblance."

Topics:  disaster, new zealand, pike river mine, safety


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