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Pike River nuggets

Pike River nuggets
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New Zealand

A summary of recent evidence in the third phase of the Royal Commission inquiry, which is asking "What happened at Pike River". The hearing runs until February 17.

February 10

David Reece, expert adviser on mine design and ventilation

  • The position of a body in the mine suggests the man was probably overcome by gases as his body appeared "relaxed".
  • The force of the blast was elsewhere, as the goaf gases would have travelled before hitting an ignition source.
  • The miner had possibly gone to see if the air flow barrier had survived the wave of gases being pushed out from the goaf collapse, and then the mine exploded.
  • Footage of a rag pulsing in the two minutes before the blast was puzzling, but there might have been a slight suck-back, potentially due to some goaf collapse.
  • Goafs are meant to collapse but the ventilation devices to remove the released gases were inadequate. Pike River could also have used early warning systems.

Stacey Shortall, counsel for Peter Whittall

  • Several miners told investigators they had witnessed one of the men who died using the compressed airline to blow fresh air over machine sensors.
  • One interviewee alleged he had seen three of the men who died override safety features.
  • That could give weight to the theory a diesel machine caused the blast, possibly by overheating.

February 13

Tony Reczek, Australian consultant who gave expert advice on electrical issues to the Department of Labour's investigative team.

  • Pike River's "unorthodox" electrical system may have caused sparks and triggered the initial explosion.
  • PRC didn't fully understand the problems it had with its underground electrical system.
  • Stray current in the electrical system was capable of causing sparks in the volatile and gassy mine.
  • A pump, switched on at the control room just before the explosion, probably acted as a trigger to ignite methane in the mine.
  • Scorching from electrical sparking on a methane detector at the top of the ventilation shaft backed up this theory.
  • PRC knew it had problems with its electrics, and that the mine should have shut down until it was resolved.
  • Problems included the placement of the main fan underground, which he would be uncomfortable about.

February 14
Doug White, former Pike River general manager

  • Within 15 minutes of the 3.45pm explosion all monitoring underground had been lost, and surface staff, who noticed a strange smell, were unable to contact the 29 men in the mine.
  • At 4.02pm he had sent two emails, including one to Solid Energy in which he asked them to call him back about a job he was interested in, and another saying he was free to talk.
  • At the time he sent the emails he had no idea there was a major incident at the mine.
  • Five days before the disaster, he told a recruitment agency he wanted to move on, saying "they won't be making me a scapegoat''.
  • He had recently taken stockbrokers underground and told them that the hydro monitor could be going better, and the hardness of the coal was causing problems.
  • He was later called into Whittall's office and told that his comments had caused the PRC share price to fall seven cents.
  • When he checked for himself afterwards, he found the share price had fallen three cents the day before the investors had visited the mine.
  • Some parts of the gas monitoring system were in place when he arrived at Pike River, and he assumed they were being run correctly.
  • Whenever gas levels spiked he always investigated.
  • Was not aware of a discrepancy between a vital sensor at the top of the ventilation shaft when it was calibrated on November 4, or that another had 'flatlined' (mine experts had said this happened after the sensor was exposed to methane levels greater than 5 percent).
  • He expected such problems to be picked up during the calibration process and the information passed on.
  • The whole workforce was trained in how to detect warning signs of spontaneous combustion.
  • At the time of the disaster, gas alarm log books were to be developed, and a ventilation expert was to be trained.

February 15
White continues

  • Confirmed in a personal email sent three days before the explosion that he described Whittall as a "dodgy git'' and accused him of doing "a number" on former chief executive Gordon Ward.
  • In an interview afterwards with police, he had called Whittall "overbearing, quite dictatorial, megalomaniac''.
  • Did not recall anyone standing up to Whittall, who would normally get what he wanted.
  • Had said Whittall blamed others and told lies in relation to issues like purchasing what was arguably the wrong mining machinery.
  • Confirmed that Whittall gave safety manager Neville Rockhouse an unnecessary' public dressing down.
  • Many systems had already been set up when he arrived at Pike River 10 months before the disaster, and he had wrongly assumed they were all working.
  • Until late October, despite his position, only four staff reported directly to him, the rest to Mr Whittall.
  • Mr Whittall "micro-managed'' everything, even questioning why a jersey and socks were being purchased.
  • He began to feel "unnecessary'', but he told himself to "harden up'', spoke to his family about it and made the decision to stay.
  • He changed his mind in November after being accused of the share price fall.
  • He was kept busy working underground up to three times a week, constantly engaging with employees, and extolling safe work.
  • When he had turned up at Pike River in January 2010 the mine "needed a cuddle''.
  • He initially had concerns over ventilation and stone dusting.
  • He acted to improve those areas, but the West Coast "No.8 wire, she'll be right'' attitude alarmed him.
  • Serious incidents had not been drawn to his attention. Everyone knew what the system was supposed to be but it was not followed on a number of occasions.

February 16

  • Whittall is devastated at being called a "megalomaniac", "liar" and "dodgy git" by his former mine manager.
  • White had said in a police interview that Whittall was the "nicest bloke you'll meet in the world" when you spoke to him one-to-one.
  • Whittall "vehemently denies" trying to force Mr Ward out of his position as chief executive.
  • Pike River chairman John Dow, said in a statement Whittall had nothing to do with Ward's departure from the company.

Pieter van Rooyen, Pike River's former technical services manager

  • Worked up to 110 hours a week, often on crisis management, before leaving PRC just 16 days before the explosion.
  • The day he started at PRC in February 2009, the main ventilation shaft collapsed.
  • Worked long hours due to continual changes in the mine design and increased reporting to the board and bank, as the newly developed mine under-performed.
  • While at Pike River he was determined to maintain professional standards and make good decisions.
  • Did not suggest a second escape way be built before hydro mining began because he "knew what the answer would be".
  • The company focus, as conveyed to him by Ward and Whittall, was on the need to produce coal as soon as possible. There was no way the company would delay coal production.
  • Had disagreed with the location of the fresh air base, which was too close to methane drainage lines.
  • There was a lack of co-ordinated design and development. Felt the mine was designed on the run, with little co-ordinated, overall planning.
Organisations Mentioned:
Royal Commission into the Pike River mine tragedy
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From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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