Pike River Mine: Safety worries not passed on

By Laura Mills -
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine. Photo / Simon Baker
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine. Photo / Simon Baker

The hydro mining co-ordinator at Pike River Mine had no experience of the coal cutting technique and did not pass on serious safety concerns expressed by an international expert, the royal commission of inquiry heard yesterday.

Former hydro mining co-ordinator George Mason, who still works for Pike River Coal (in receivership), said he told mine manager Peter Whittall during a phone interview that he had no experience in hydro mining but was confident he could upskill.

Mr Mason started work at Pike River in August last year, and said issues were still being resolved in November.

"All haste was being made to get both projects [hydro mining and commissioning the main fan] completed," said Mr Mason.

International hydro mining expert Masaoki (Oki) Nishioka had relayed concerns about the lack of ventilation. Mr Mason said he did not pass them on.

"While I considered Oki's comment, I also understood we had to go through a commissioning phase with the hydro machinery, and that would extend out gradually before we were in full production mode," Mr Mason said.

"Up until the time of the explosion, we weren't really in full production mode."

Earlier, two lawyers for the mine managers said Mr Nishioka, who left Pike River Mine a month before the disaster warning that it could explode, had offered to return.

Mr Nishioka was brought in to commission hydro mining but walked off the job a month before the November 19 blast.

The royal commission heard that he arrived in July, and by October, as his contract ended, methane levels had soared and the fans kept failing.

"I left the mine because I felt the mine would explode at any time," he said.

But John Haigh QC, lawyer for mine manager Doug White, suggested Mr Nishioka also left because he had a new job to go to in Saudi Arabia, and had told mine manager Doug White that he might be available again when he returned from Saudi Arabia.

- Greymouth Star

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