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Pike manager more concerned with rescuers' safety

By Jarrod Booker

Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at the Pike River Mine. Photo / APN
Flames coming out of a ventilation shaft at the Pike River Mine. Photo / APN

The person in charge at Pike River mine when it exploded is standing by his decision not to allow rescuers into the mine, saying he was not prepared to risk another life.

There has been criticism that a rescue attempt was not launched soon after the gas explosion inside the mine last November 19 that led to the deaths of 29 workers - though it is still not clear if any of the workers survived that initial blast.

Spokesman for the victims' families Bernie Monk said: "I know a lot of [mine rescuers] wanted to go in. If it was me, I would have gone in."

Pike River Coal general manager Doug White yesterday told the royal commission of inquiry into the tragedy that although some members of the Mines Rescue Service debated with him out of frustration at not being able to enter the mine, he made it clear no one was to enter.

"This was because I could not be satisfied that it was safe to do so ...

I was not prepared to risk another life."

Gas sampling was done to evaluate the possibility of mounting a rescue. When rescuers were preparing to go underground on November 24, Mr White said he got a call informing him of a second explosion.

He said there had been discussion about using a temporary seal to restrict air flow into the mine, or a GAG jet engine machine to render the mine atmosphere inert, but these were rejected because authorities felt it would send a message there was no hope left of the workers surviving.

Mr White spoke to survivor Daniel Rockhouse by phone after the explosion and told him to stay low and get out.

Concern has also been raised about the delay in contacting families of the workers left in the mine. Mr White said it took time to account for the people underground because some of them had not placed their tags on a tag board as they were supposed to, while some from a previous shift had not removed their tags from the board after leaving the mine.

He said New Zealand mining regulations were set at a lower standard than he was used to in Queensland. In his time at Pike he had had to terminate an employee for a serious safety breach, but his approach was generally to encourage people to act safely "rather than take the big stick".

- NZ Herald

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