Pike worker not 'afraid' to go underground

FORMER Pike River Coal technical services manager Pieter van Rooyen has told an inquiry into the Pike River mine disaster he had never been scared to venture underground, contrary to previous evidence heard at the commission.
Pike worker not 'afraid' to go underground Pike worker not 'afraid' to go underground Pike worker not 'afraid' to go underground Pike worker not 'afraid' to go underground Pike worker not 'afraid' to go underground

The Pike River mine a few weeks before the tragic explosions.

Lauren Barrett

Resuming evidence at the final day of phase 3 of the Pike River mine disaster, van Rooyen faced a day of intense cross-examination.

In the phase 2 inquiry, the commission heard how former Pike River hydro-mining operator Masaoki Nishioka said Van Rooyen was too scared to go underground.

Under questioning from lawyer Richard Raymond, Van Rooyen disputed Nishioka’s comments.

“I was not afraid to go underground at Pike River, not ever,” Van Rooyen said.

He said it was merely a coincidence he never went underground for the six weeks prior to his departure at Pike, which was during the beginning of hydro-mining.

Van Rooyen said it was due to work he was conducting on petroleum exploration reporting to Crown Minerals and he had to make sure everything was up-to-date before he left Pike River.

He said he had given thought as to why Nishioka said he was scared to go underground and could only think of one possible reason.

Van Rooyen said he had taken his wife up to Pike River on the weekend before he finished at the mine so she could assist with filing.

Nishioka was also in the office and had asked van Rooyen if he had taken his wife underground.

“My wife at that point in time said well she doesn't go underground, she’s afraid of going underground and she also made the comment to the fact that she doesn't want me to go underground and she's afraid of me going underground, which she has been since I've started working on mines,” van Rooyen said.

“I don't know if that has been misconstrued or misunderstood by Mr Nishioka … but that's the only reason I could find in soul-searching why he would make that comment.”

Giving evidence last year, Nishioka said he had warned fellow employees the mine “could go anytime”

In response to this statement, van Rooyen said he had never worried about a possible explosion at Pike River.

“The probability of an explosion is always part of coal mining, it depends on how you manage that risk,” he said.

“I was not ever concerned about an explosion at Pike.”

Earlier in the day, there was a discussion about Pike River’s fresh air base.

Van Rooyen said it was commonly referred to as a FAB but it was set up as a changeover station.

He said he raised concerns with White over the position of the changeover station because it was placed incorrectly next to the gas drainage pipe.

“From late 2009, I said to people that we should not be using that as a FAB because of the gas drainage line,” van Rooyen told the commission.

Van Rooyen accepted the priority of the fresh air base was “well down the list”

The commission heard in the 21 months van Rooyen was employed at Pike River, he never once participated in an evacuation drill.

Despite this, Van Rooyen said he was aware of what to do in an emergency at Pike.

When asked under questioning by Raymond what he would do in the situation of a fire, van Rooyen said he would put on his self-rescuer and move towards an escape route.

If the main drift was not accessible, then it would have been the ventilation shaft.

Raymond reeled off a list of things wrong with using the ventilation shaft as an escape route including “the bottleneck effect with so many men congregating at the bottom of it when only eight maximum could be on it at a time”

Van Rooyen said if the vent shaft wasn’t practical as a means of an escape he would turn to advice from the undermanagers because “they know the area better than what I would probably do”

His evidence concludes phase 3 of the inquiry which set out to determine the likely cause of the explosion.

The commission heard from two experts employed by the New Zealand Department of Labour to investigate a range of possibilities into how the explosion could have taken place.

While it might never be known exactly how the explosion occurred due to the inability to gain access underground, one of the likely causes was a significant roof collapse in the goaf of the mine, causing an accumulation of methane to come into contact with an ignition source.

The final phase of the inquiry will commence on April 2.

It will determine whether extra regulation is needed in the New Zealand mining industry and examine the profile of an effective mining inspectorate.

The reporting date for the Royal Commission on the Pike River explosion has been set for September 28.

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