Former Pike River CEO’s day in court

The former chief executive of Pike River Coal, Peter Whittall has taken the stand at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the November 19 tragedy that killed 29 men underground.

Whittall arrived at the court just before he was due to give evidence at 10am.

He was sworn in and told the court he was the chief executive of the company for six weeks before the explosions.

The number of employees at the mine was 174 prior to the explosions, Whittall said, but was drastically reduced to 17 by June.

The former mine boss has detailed the coal seams they targeted and how they extracted the resources, as well as outlining the roads and tunnels used to access the mine.

According to Whittall, it was the mine manger’s responsibility to oversee the underground mine and facilities, excluding the coal preparation plant.

He said the company used forced ventilation, with fans pushing air into the portal tunnel, which is normal practice for a tunnelling situation.

As the chief executive, Whittall relocated from the Pike River Coal site to the head office located in Wellington in a January 2010.

He has hardly spoken about the mine since the initial days after the explosions, but has said he was looking forward to his opportunity to defend himself and the company.

"It’ll be nice to get on the stand today,” he told media outside court.

Court proceedings yesterday saw Labour MP Kate Wilkinson accused of ignoring safety recommendations prior to the explosions.

There have now been calls for her to step down from her position in light of the tragedy.


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