Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall has demonstrated courage as he fronts-up each day on national television to explain to increasing impatient news media the latest reason why any of the 29 miners have yet to be rescued let alone recovered.

At any other time Whittall could be mistaken as a ring-in for comedy actor Danny DeVito. But the Pike River disaster is deadly serious.

The only sign that the Pike River boss is feeling the strain are the dark bags under his eyes which sag lower by the day - and the occasional well-disguised tear when the cameras catch him in an unguarded moment.

He's obviously barely slept since the explosion which rocked the West Coast mine nearly five days ago.

Yet he has managed to keep a lid on his emotions, present a warmer image alongside the more clinical presence of Superintendent Gary Knowles, who is in charge of the rescue operation, and importantly, explain the implications of the explosion in a matter of a fact way.

But after five days of being the company's public face at the disaster HQ in Greymouth, surely it is time for other executives - and Pike River chairman John Dow - to step up to the plate in a show of solidarity to give their chief executive a spell.

The pressure on Whittall will be immense. Not just the psychological pressure of hoping beyond belief he can get his hand-picked men out of that hell hole.

But also knowing only too well that he will inevitably find himself one of those in the gun at the subsequent disaster inquiries.

Pike River's website says Whittall was general manager, mines, before his chief executive appointment and in this role had been "responsible for all operational aspects of the business including mine design and development, and the essential areas of safety and environment".

On top of this rather large task, Whittall has also been intimately involved in coal marketing and the repeated capital raisings necessary to keep the business going after it fell well behind production deadlines.

Just one week before the disaster he addressed the company's annual meeting for the first time as CEO. He had only been in the Wellington-based role a month or so.

Doug White - a former Deputy Chief Inspector of Coal Mines with the Department of Mines in Queensland and Pike's operations manager - had expanded his role to cover Whittall's old brief as general manager, mines.

Whittall is a mining executive with 30 years experience in the coal business, including managing underground mines for BHP Billiton in New South Wales. It goes without saying that the coal mining business is dirty and dangerous.

Explosions happen. Lives are saved. Lives are lost. But the psychological pressure of being the sole public face of the company will also be having a physical effect.

Think back just 12 years to the Auckland power crisis when much of our CBD was without electricity for six weeks. Back then Mercury Energy chief executive Wayne Gilbert was the public face of a company which was repeatedly blamed for the cable crisis.

The pressure was immense. Gilbert died of a sudden heart attack during the crisis. The Mercury board, which clearly had some role in the company's strategic decisions, then took a greater presence.

Frankly, it is time we saw a few more of Pike River's top brass. Particularly as the public information campaign surrounding the disaster has clearly switched mode to preparing families for the worst by showing them a 52-second video of the blast.

The Pike River board features some very experienced directors: Dow is a geologist with 41 years under his belt in Greenfield's ventures and a mining executive in New Zealand, Southeast Asia, the United States and Latin America.

There are three Kiwis: Ray Meyer is deputy chair of Pike River's major shareholder NZ Oil and Gas and a former director of Electricorp and Transpower. Tony Radford is NZ Oil and Gas's chairman and Stuart Nattrass is a Fonterra director and former director of South Canterbury Finance.

There are also two Indian directors: Dipak Agarwalla, who is managing director of Saurashtra Fuels which is one of India's largest private coke producers, and, Arun Jagatramka, who is managing director of Gujarat NRE Coke, the first Indian company to own and operate mines in Australia.

Dow has stressed there has been no corner-cutting when it comes to safety. Certainly, the fact that Pike River appears to have passed its latest insurance review bears that out.

On the surface, the Pike River project is promising.

It covers two valuable seams of high-grade coking coal - of great value to the steel industry. But it is also operating in a conservation area under the Paparoa Ranges and has had to tailor its operations to meet environmental and sustainability standards.

If it had fulfilled its promise Pike River would have been an example of the "surgically precise" mining that the National Government promoted earlier this year.

As the company tells it a key issue in the time it took to get approval to operate its mine was to make sure the Department of Conservation and local Maori were assured it would protect a largely undisturbed environment, including restoring the mine site to its natural state when mining ends.

It took two years of tunnelling to reach to coal seam which is underneath land managed by DoC.

"Before even starting the lengthy access negotiations and resource consents process, Pike River determined, following consultation with DoC and Ngati Waewae, that it would minimise surface environmental impacts by constructing an access tunnel to reach coal. That meant tunnelling on a rising 1-in-11 gradient to intersect with the Brunner seam which runs at a similar uphill angle under the mountain ridge."

A subsequent inquiry should examine whether conservation values and "good old-fashioned mining practices" can co-exist in practice.

Irrespective, the coal miner has not had a clear run.It has been under-capitalised and faced major cost over-runs. There have been unexpected equipment failures, a rockfall and underground the environment is gassy - a factor which came up in the company's recent discussions with investors.

It has got two shipments of coking coal away this year but is now making substantial losses and had halved production forecasts.

The sharemarket has factored in that Pike River Coal's prime West Coast mine will not reopen any time soon by wiping one-third off the share price of its 29.4 per cent shareholder NZ Oil&Gas yesterday. Meanwhile, Pike River remains on trading halt.

Subsequent inquiries will investigate whether Pike River's safety mechanisms were sufficient.

They should also investigate how New Zealand has met this challenge and whether Australasia - as a whole - needs to invest in the types of robots and other disaster instruments which can be brought into play when the next major coal explosion occurs.