Pike River survivor thought he would die

DAMAGING new evidence into the rescue mission at the Pike River coal mine in New Zealand has emerged after survivor Daniel Rockhouse revealed the fresh air base where he was instructed to go for safety did not have self-rescuers, first aid kits or a working phone.
Pike River survivor thought he would die Pike River survivor thought he would die Pike River survivor thought he would die Pike River survivor thought he would die Pike River survivor thought he would die

Underground at the Pike River mine months before tragedy struck in November, 2010. Image courtesy of PRC.

Lauren Barrett

The former Pike River miner, who was one of two workers to escape the explosion that killed 29 miners last year, gave evidence at the phase two hearing of the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

During his testimony Rockhouse gave a moving account of his escape from the mine after he awoke from falling unconscious due to the surrounding carbon monoxide.

“I just lay there and was crying,” he said.

“My eyes were watering because I presume it was the gas stinging … I was just lying there freaking out, I then closed my eyes and thought that was it, I thought I was dead.”

After regaining feeling and movement in his hands, Rockhouse proceeded to ring an emergency number on the available phone, but hung up after receiving no response.

“It rang a few times and no one answered. The phone then went to an answering service message for Pike River Coal,” he said.

After saying "a few profanities" Rockhouse got through to general manager Doug White, who told him to “get out, stay low and get to the fresh air base and make contact there”

On his way to the base he found fellow survivor Russell Smith lying on the roadway with his eyes rolling backward.

He was able to carry Smith to the fresh air base where “there was no first aid kit, the phone wasn’t working, and when I turned on the air valve … it wasn’t working either”

“There were no extra self-rescuers either, just an empty container,” Rockhouse said.

Rockhouse made the decision to leave the air base to walk out of the mine, carrying Smith with him and opening air vents for assistance along the way out.

“Russell and I kept holding onto each other and walking,” he said.

“It was like a three-legged race with one step then one step holding each other, I was holding him up.”

After exiting the mine Rockhouse was met by his father.

“He grabbed me and I just collapsed, I broke down into tears and was having trouble breathing,” Rockhouse said.

Rockhouse left questions surrounding basic safety at Pike River, after he revealed there had been no evacuation practice at the mine during the two-and-a-half year period he was there, and he did not receive training on how to use his self-rescuer.

Former Pike River Coal general manager Doug White also gave evidence in the first week of the phase two inquiry, admitting he was frustrated at the delays in the search and rescue mission, because it took up to 24 hours to get answers.

White said a group of government agencies, including police and the Department of Labour were reviewing all decisions, which caused a delay in communication between the police and mine staff.

White also revealed his doubts about those who were informing the police.

“Some of the experts, this is my opinion, were lacking in the fields of expertise that were required to provide expert knowledge to the people onsite," White said.

The commission, which will call on 26 witnesses during the three week inquiry, is aiming to establish whether or not the rescue response could have been handled better.