Emergency call delayed 51 mins after Pike River explosion

Emergency services were not called to the Pike River coal mine for 51 minutes after the first explosion in November, it has been revealed.

New information released today shows the delay in calling for help and also reveals the families of some of the miners were not contacted until the next day.

Mines Rescue Services said a “number of factors” could have caused the delay in contacting emergency services.

The mine is currently in receivership and up for sale.

Receivers have admitted that unsecured creditors owed money by the company may never be paid.

Pike River Coal placed itself in receivership weeks after the explosion, releasing it from payment obligations.

Yesterday, Pike River contractors and suppliers group spokesman Peter Haddock told the Greymouth Star they had been powerless and out of pocket since November and liquidation was their only option to take control of the situation and deal with financial troubles.

On Monday the contractors, who are owed about $5 million by Pike River, held a meeting to discuss the information that led them to file a court action to have the company placed in liquidation.

The group says evidence they have proves the miners families have been treated “despicably.”

"We have found a lot of information that is extremely disturbing," the contractors’ spokesman Gerry Morris told The New Zealand Press.

"The communication and treatment of the families has been absolutely despicable."

Morris is working with the contractors together with lawyers Greg King and David Butlerand said there was a one point immediately after the explosion that the mine company thought there may have been as many as 36 men trapped underground.

It took 51 minutes to contact emergency services, and 14 hours to contact some families.

A decision was made in a conference call to Wellington to deny Mines rescue entry into the mine, Morris said.

"Their records were completely inadequate and no respect was paid to the history of the mine. It’s just staggering."

Mines Rescue general manager Trevor Watts has denied any knowledge of a conference call taking place.

"As far as the 51 minutes for the emergency services to be called – there were a number of factors involved," he said.

"They basically had to determine what went on at the mine. They did not know there had been an explosion.

"They went through a number of processes to determine what went on in the mine."

He said more details about the delay would come out in the Royal Commission into the tragedy.

He said the first contact between Mines Rescue and Pike River was at 4:30pm but would not comment on the time they arrived at the site.

More break downs in communication have been unveiled, with Neville Rockhouse, who worked at the mine and also lost his son Ben in the tragedy saying he was not made aware a man had emerged from the mine, even though he was in the control room at the time the incident occurred.

He said claims that Mines Rescue should have gone into the mine straight away need to be examined properly in the Royal Comission.

"If we had sent them down at that time when our gas monitoring system had been blown to bits we could have had a situation… like walking down the barrel of a gun when someone’s got their finger on the trigger."

But Rockhouse did agreed with the contractors’ criticism that the families should have been shown a video of the first blast sooner, which may have led to the mine being sealed earlier.

"I think had we seen that video in the first day or two we would have all been destroyed emotionally," he said.

"And that would have led to no future explosions and we wouldn’t be going through the torture we are now."

Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall has admitted he did not arrive at the mine until 1am the following morning.

His knowledge was based on what other people had told him, he said.

But Whittall couldn’t recall the information he was given about the time it took for people at the mine to contact emergency services.

"It’s not part of my brief or evidence I have to give," he said.

"The Royal Commission is the right place for these things to be discussed.

"That’s the appropriate place where we should discuss these issues and it will give people an opportunity to respond to them."

On Tuesday New Zealand Prime Minister John Key confirmed there were issues with safety regulations in the country’s mining industry, admitting the Pike River mine “would be illegal” if it were regulated by Australian standards.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.