Pike River: MP says miners' plea for aid met by answerphone

By Derek Cheng

The Labour and Green parties have repeatedly urged that mine safety be improved immediately. Photo / NZ Police
The Labour and Green parties have repeatedly urged that mine safety be improved immediately. Photo / NZ Police

The two survivors of the Pike River disaster were forced to leave a message on an answer machine when they phoned for help, Parliament heard yesterday.

Green Party MP Kevin Hague, who is based on the West Coast, raised the issue in Parliament yesterday in highlighting ongoing safety issues with underground mines in New Zealand.

Since the Kaye and Party mining disaster of 1940, underground mines have been legally required to have a phone link to emergency help on the surface.

Mr Hague said the survivors, Daniel Rockhouse and Russell Smith, were entitled to rely on that link for assistance.

He told Radio New Zealand that his information came from a "reliable source", but he did not know why no one answered the initial call, or how many calls it took until someone answered.

During question time he asked the Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, to improve mine safety immediately, but Ms Wilkinson pointed to the royal commission of inquiry, which is conducting hearings into the disaster that claimed 29 lives last November.

"Does the minister think it is good enough that when the two Pike River survivors struggled to the phone in the Pike River mine and called the Pike River surface controller, their call went to an answerphone?" Mr Hague asked.

Ms Wilkinson said she was reluctant to comment "on evidence that may or may not be before the royal commission of inquiry".

Mr Hague continued to press her.

"Does the minister think it is good enough that when the two Pike River survivors finally got through to the control room and were instructed to keep making their way out of the mine, there was nobody and no supplies - not even a drink of water or first aid - there to meet them, leaving them to make their own way to find help?

"Will the minister resign if the royal commission finds that her department failed in its duty to protect the Pike River miners, as the then Minister of Conservation Denis Marshall did over Cave Creek?"

The Cave Creek disaster, also on the West Coast, claimed 14 lives in 1995 when a viewing platform collapsed. The platform was approved and built by people who had no engineering, building or design qualifications.

Ms Wilkinson again said she would await the commission's findings.

Both the Labour and Green parties have repeatedly called on the Government to improve safety immediately, before the commission finishes its work.

The Government has responded by saying the commission is the right vehicle to determine what the proper response is, and it will wait for its findings.

- NZ Herald

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