Pike River survivor tells of ordeal

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The Pike River royal commission resumed hearings yesterday focusing on the search and rescue operation, with survivor Daniel Rockhouse retelling his ordeal.

During his testimony Rockhouse revealed there had been no evacuation practice at the mine during his two-and-a-half years working there.

Last November’s explosions killed 29 people and Rockhouse’s evidence moved many in the court to tears as he recounted the feeling of his body “shutting down” while he lay on the floor of the coal mine.

Rockhouse said the explosion occurred after he got out of his loader at the bottom of the pit.

“It was like a big blast of pressure and I saw what I thought was a white flash out of the corner of my eye,” he said.

“It was just boom and it hit me, it happened in milliseconds.”

Rockhouse said at the time he did not think there had been a cave-in.

“There was debris coming from the roof, wee rocks and stuff that was hitting me, but nothing indicated to me that there had been a cave in, nothing like that.”

He said he discarded his self-rescuer after he found he could not get enough oxygen from it, and fell unconscious for about 20 minutes.

Rockhouse said after regaining consciousness he headed to a nearby phone and rang the emergency number 555, but it clicked to an answering service for Pike River Coal.

He said he then phoned the control room and was passed to mine general manager Doug White who told him to keep low and head to the fresh air base.

Rockhouse said he found the only other survivor, Russell Smith, semi-conscious on the way, and dragged him with him.

On arrival at the fresh air base he said he was furious to discover it open, with no working phone or extra self-rescuers because it had been decommissioned.

He said he kept dragging smith until he was able to walk, propped up by Rockhouse, to the exit.

He said they breathed from fresh air vents along the way and stopped to look back and check for any lights coming out of the mine, but there were none.

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