At the same time he is attempting to ensure the inerting of the mine continues with a GAG jet engine that should allow recovery crews to enter the mine and search for the bodies of the miners, he told ILN.
“It’s a terribly tragic time,” he said.
“I’ve just had a meeting for the first time with my management team altogether since it happened a week and a half ago. It’s pretty raw. We’re trying to get this GAG going.”
The GAG unit brought over by Queensland Mines Rescue Services is basically a jet engine which can overwhelm any fires and explosive gases underground with nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapour.
“I’ve got so many good guys up there who know what they’re doing that are well trained that have made sure that they put the right systems in the mine and are absolutely dedicated to the safety of the business,” he said.
“My guys have put all these [gas monitoring] systems together.”
Whittall said he did not want to pre-empt the findings of the Royal Commission on the reasons for the mine explosions but he said the gas-monitoring systems at Pike were of the same standard as those used in mines in New South Wales and Queensland.
“We’re trying to get a recovery operation and get to the mine at the same time as dealing with the expectation of the workforce about employment and expectation from the community about the memorial,” he said.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Resources, Energy and Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson will represent Australia at the memorial service for the Greymouth miners.
The event is expected to be attended by dignitaries and members of the Australian mining industry and unions.
The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union will be represented by general vice-president Ian Murray and Queensland district president Stephen Smyth.
The union’s Central Council also passed a resolution to donate $A100,000 to the Pike River Miners Family Support Trust.
“I keep on hearing it’s getting bigger and bigger numbers [attending the memorial],” Whittall said.
“It started at 5000 and so far they have 11,000 people coming, which is more than the population of the town.
“It’s going to be very emotional. The prime minister, ministers, and myself will be up on the stage talking. It will be very, very difficult.
“Then we have got to come straight off that and get on with getting in this coal mine.
“It’s something I never want to go through again for the rest of my career.
“It doesn’t matter how much training or education you have, you can never be ready for it.”
Whittall was general manager of the mine since 2005 and was promoted to his senior position on October 2, taking over from long-time CEO and managing director Gordon Ward who unexpectedly resigned in September.
Before working at Pike, Whittall had 24 years of experience with BHP Billiton’s Illawarra Coal, including managing the Dendrobium, Tower and Appin mines in New South Wales.