Pike River families 'gutted' as delays mean mine experts leave

Peter Whittall. Photo / NZPA, The Press
Peter Whittall. Photo / NZPA, The Press

Peter Whittall Families of the 29 men killed in the Pike River blasts say they are gutted that Australian experts brought in to help retrieve the bodies have "packed their bags and gone" because the mine manager has not done a full-risk assessment.

Experts brought in to stabilise the mine are understood to have returned to Australia after managers failed to provide a full-risk assessment of the next step in the re-entry process, which would involve pouring a rapidly expanding sealant down a 100m borehole to seal the main tunnel.

In a letter to Pike River Coal on Friday, the Department of Labour said a full assessment needed to be presented before any further work on the sealing project could go ahead.

Acting chief inspector of mines Gavin Taylor said the department had not put a stop on work at the mine.

"We have simply reminded the mine manager of his responsibilities to provide a full-risk assessment of the project before it starts - something he should have done some time ago," he said.

A spokesman for the Pike River victims' families, Bernie Monk, said the Australian experts who had been working at the mine had already "packed their bags and gone home".

"It's just gut-wrenching. It's just continuously a blow after blow that we're getting, but nobody seems to be discussing things with us."

Meanwhile, Greymouth's mayor Tony Kokshoorn has called on the former Pike River Coal boss to rethink his "extremely insensitive" decision to set up a mining consultancy business which includes advising on mine safety.

Peter Whittall was the chief executive of Pike River Coal when explosions killed 29 men in November 2010.

The Department of Labour has laid 12 charges against him alleging he failed to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of company workers.

Charges have also been laid against Pike River Coal and VLI Drilling Pty.

Mr Whittall, who finished in his role as chief executive last November, denies the charges against him. He has now founded and registered Peter Whittall and Associates.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said Mr Whittall's decision to set up the company was "extremely insensitive at this stage".

"There was disaster under his watch. I just don't think Peter's making the right call here," he said.

"He needs to think about this hard and he's only digging a bigger hole for himself, quite frankly."

- APNZ

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