New Zealand scraps plans to retrieve mine blast bodies

New Zealand said Thursday that plans to retrieve the bodies of 29 miners killed in a 2010 explosion had been abandoned because the site remained too dangerous.

Prime Minister John Key said the owner of the Pike River mine, Solid Energy, had examined all options for entering the mine shaft, or drift, but determined the risk to those carrying out the work would be too great.

"In the course of their work they did everything they possibly could to see whether it was possible to go up the drift," Key told reporters.

Government officials said the land around the mine, on the South Island`s rugged west coast, would be designated conservation land and a memorial built at the mine`s entrance.

The blast at the Pike River colliery in November 2010 was New Zealand`s worst mining disaster in almost a century, claiming the lives of 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African.

It was triggered by a build-up of methane, which Solid Energy said was still present in high levels.

"We know this decision will be very disappointing to the family members and friends of the men who died in the mine," chairwoman Pip Dunphy said. "However, any further loss of life in this mine is unacceptable."

Relatives of the dead have waged a long campaign to retrieve the bodies and Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died, said knowing the remains of their loved ones would remain entombed underground was "like being slapped in the face".

"There`s just been no justice for us," she told Radio New Zealand. "To not be able to have my man home and for no-one to be held to account over this, what`s wrong with our justice system?"

An official inquiry in 2012 criticised unsafe work practices at the mine and said it should never have been operating, although police said there was insufficient evidence to bring manslaughter charges against its managers.

The mine`s operator Pike River Coal went into receivership soon after the disaster and Solid Energy took over while a decision was made over what to do with the colliery.

The government said Thursday that Solid Energy had relinquished its permit on the mine so plans to make it conservation land could proceed.