Jo and Josh at Rockhampton Airport on the day he flew to his new life in New Zealand.
Jo and Josh at Rockhampton Airport on the day he flew to his new life in New Zealand. Contributed

Josh wanted to come home

JOSH Ufer was anxious to leave the mine in which he is entombed.

The 25-year-old Central Queenslander, who was killed in the Pike River coal mine disaster in New Zealand a year ago, wanted to return to Australia and had been offered a new job here.

But the skilled methane gas drainage driller, who had complained to his family about safety issues at the pit, never got his wish.

His remains still lie about three kilometres into the mountain alongside 28 colleagues who perished in a series of destructive explosions.

And, as the anniversary of the disaster looms, his mum Jo has vowed not to rest until Josh's body is recovered and returned to CQ.

Nor will she stop campaigning until the New Zealand government introduces laws to prevent a similar tragedy.

On November 19 last year, Jo got the call every relative of an underground miner dreads - there had been an explosion at the mine in Greymouth and Josh was among those trapped.

"In that early phase, I was still hopeful. The blast happened at 3.44 New Zealand time on Friday afternoon and my daughter, partner and I flew there the next day. "I was sure he would be OK. The story of the Chilean miners who had been rescued after being trapped underground for months was still very fresh and I kept really positive."

In Greymouth townsfolk and relatives maintained a vigil and messages of support flooded the town from all over the world.

"It was surreal. For five days it seemed as if we were the focus of attention for the world's media. On the Wednesday after the explosions we were all gathered together for an announcement and I'll never forget the sound of grief as 300 people screamed and cried when we were told there had been a second explosion and police said there would be no survivors."

She says when she returned to Middlemount, where she had worked for Anglo Coal as an administration officer, people didn't know how to treat her.

"Some people didn't know how to react. It felt like some were avoiding me because they didn't know what to say. Not many know how to deal with that kind of loss and I don't blame people for that. It's so difficult."

She said she wanted to thank her family and close friends for their support in helping her get through the trauma of the past 12 months

In June Jo moved with her partner, Kevin, to Zilzie, a world away from the coal fields and the bleak landscape where Josh died.

"He'd worked in the mines for five years and worked his way up pretty quickly to a supervisory level as a methane drainage driller.

"He was employed by Valley Longwall International and when a position came up at Pike River he was keen to try the new experience of living in a different country. His best mate was already working over there."

Josh started his new life in New Zealand on May 10, not quite six months before that fateful day, but he was already restless.

"He was ready to come home for various reasons. He didn't like the weather - lots of rain and not much sunshine and he struggled with that.

"His girlfriend, Rachelle, was pregnant and he was keen to raise his baby in Queensland. He'd also spoken to his dad about problems with power and ventilation at the mine. He'd had a job interview the week before and got the job and there was a second offer back in Queensland."

He'd spoken with his dad about problems with power and ventilation at the mine


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