Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Watercare, piping firm charged over fatal explosion

The scene in Onehunga where a gas explosion took place. Photo / Amos Chapple
The scene in Onehunga where a gas explosion took place. Photo / Amos Chapple

The family of a Canadian maintenance worker killed in a major underground gas explosion say they are anxiously awaiting a court date now that two companies have been charged for their role in the incident.

Five charges were laid in the Auckland District Court yesterday against Auckland's water provider Watercare Services and Canadian Pacific, an East Tamaki piping contractor.

Watercare maintenance planner and mother of two Philomen Gulland, 48, was killed in the explosion in Onehunga on June 4. Three other workers were seriously injured, including engineer Ian Winson, who lost part of both his legs.

Ms Gulland's brother Bernie Penner told the Herald from British Columbia the family were still in the dark about Philomen's last moments.

"I'm sitting here waiting for things to unfold. We're anxiously waiting, like everyone else." He said he would return to New Zealand for the court date, yet to be set, because he wanted "to do everything he can" to understand how his sister died.

Mother Margaret Penner said in August that she missed Philomen every day: "There's no question you accept what you can't change. There's good days and bad days."

The source of methane gas, found in a pipe at the explosion scene, and the cause of the accident are being investigated. Ms Gulland and Mr Winson were inspecting the water main, several metres inside the tunnel, when the explosion occurred.

Watercare chief executive Mark Ford said yesterday: "Preliminary inquiries show the specifics of this incident - where reticulated gas entered a drained water main - appear to be unprecedented in the water industry anywhere in the world."

It was a tragic accident and his company was committed to ensuring all possible lessons had been learned.

Department of Labour spokesman John Howard said the charges were laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act. "Our investigation... looked at whether legal obligations were complied with, what caused the accident, what can be done to stop it happening [again]."

The department couldn't release its preliminary findings while court action was underway.

Mr Winson's family were reluctant to make any comment until a court decision had been reached.

- NZ Herald

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