Pike River mine manager 'not scared' of going underground

By Nicholas McBride of the Greymouth Star

Pike River Coal former technical services manager Pieter Van Rooyen gives evidence at the inquiry. Photo / pool
Pike River Coal former technical services manager Pieter Van Rooyen gives evidence at the inquiry. Photo / pool

The technical services manager who left the Pike River Mine only days before explosion that killed 29 miners has denied he was ever scared of entering the tunnel.

On the final day of the third phase of the Royal Commission of Inquiry today into the fatal blasts in November 2010, former technical services manager Pieter (Petrus) van Rooyen, originally from Namibia, agreed he had not been underground at the West Coast for the last six weeks that he was there.

"There were people more qualified at getting that area operational than I was," he said.

He denied the idea that he had not gone down the mine because he was scared, as suggested by Japanese hydro mining expert Oki Nishioka. Mr van Rooyen said it was purely coincidence, and that he had been busy in that time with exploration reports for Crown Minerals and getting things up to date before he left.

His wife had expressed her personal concerns about him going into the mine, but he did not share those concerns, he said.

"I was not afraid to go do down in Pike River, not ever."

He had people working in that area, including Mr Nishioka, who had raised the thought that he believed the mine could potentially explode "at any time" and that he feared such an event.

"The risk of explosion is always a part of coal mining," Mr van Rooyen said.

He did not recall such concerns from Mr Nishioka.

"I was never concerned about an explosion at Pike River."

Earlier, the question was raised as to whether Mr van Rooyen believed there should have been something done about the gas drainage line running through the fresh air base, but his lawyer objected on the grounds of self-incrimination.

There were plans for a proper fresh air base underground, but those plans were down the list because priorities at Pike River were instead focused on production goals.

Mr van Rooyen said he had some concern about that, and the fact that the location of the fresh air base was not ideal.

While he was in a position to sign the permit to mine, he revealed today that when mining finally went ahead it was without his signature.

Asked about Peter Whittall's "micro-management" style, Mr van Rooyen said he did sometimes find it frustrating.

"He wanted to know everything ... Mr Whittall did on occasion make it clear his decisions were final."

When errors were made, Mr Whittall often blamed them on others, Mr van Rooyen said.

"Yes, there was a blame culture at Pike," he said under cross-examination.

The latest phase of the Pike River Hearings wrapped up today.

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