Pike River mine blast inquiry opens in New Zealand

A miner lays down flowers at White Knight Bridge near the entrance to the Pike River mine where 29 miners died, in Greymouth (file image from December 2010)
Image caption The disaster was one of New Zealand's worst mining accidents

An inquiry into the Pike River mine disaster has opened in the New Zealand town of Greymouth.

The proceedings opened with a one-minute silence to remember the 29 men killed in a series of explosions at the mine in November 2010.

Judge Graham Panckhurst said the aim of the inquiry was to find out what caused the accident and ensure a similar incident did not happen again.

Formal evidentiary hearings will take place from May to November.

A final report from the inquiry, which is a Royal Commission, is due in March 2012.

The mine, in the north-west of New Zealand's South Island, was rocked by an explosion on 19 November 2010.

The coroner said evidence suggested the 29 men died in the blast or from the impact of poisonous gases shortly afterwards.

Their bodies have not been recovered and the mine is now sealed off following several other blasts.

"No-one is on trial, there are no sides, no-one will win or lose," the judge told the court. "Our job is to find out what happened, why and what must change for the future good."

A lawyer for the families said they wanted to know the truth about what happened at the mine.

But operator Pike River Coal - which is now in receivership - told the court it did not have funds to prepare documents for the inquiry.

Judge Panckhurst said he expected "active involvement" from the company in the inquiry.

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