Pike River inquest delayed; CEO to face inquiry

The inquest into the Pike River disaster has been delayed as the miner’s chairman is due to take the stand.

The delay is due to fog in Christchurch, which forced some lawyers to drive across New Zealand’s Southern Alps, instead of flying, according to The Press.

It was due to re-commence at 11:30 local time, but has been pushed back to 1pm NZT.

Three witnesses, Mark Smith from the Department of Conservation and Michael Firmin and James Murphy from the Department of Labour, were scheduled for today.

Peter Whitall, the chief executive of Pike River, will also face the inquiry this week.

He is expected to answer to the issues raised over Pike River Coal’s (PRC) operations and management of the mine, as well as accusations from Solid Energy CEO Don Elder, geologist Jane Newman, and former mine inspector Harry Bell.

Bell told the inquiry he had given repeated warnings to management over the mine’s lack of methane gas ventilation.

The former supervisor recommended fans and piping be installed to remove the gas, but these recommendations were not followed.

He said the management were aware of a number of gas ignitions inside the mine in late 2008, and he was “furious and alarmed”, telling the region’s mine inspector to shut down the coal mine.

Jane Newman also labelled Pike River’s approach to mine geology as ‘inadequate’.

“It felt to me I was endorsing an approach to the geology that I considered – I’ll try to put this the polite way – inadequate.”

A tight budget at the mine meant research, such as extra drill holes and extra training recommended by Newman were not carried out, the NZ Herald reported.

She went on to say that she was “not confident” that PRC realised there was sandstone in the seam near the longwall.

The drilling used – in-seam drilling- was not designed for identifying sandstone, she said.

This type of drilling can fail to identify sandstone, which could result in trapped methane gases being released.

The NZ Department of Labour has until November this year to decide if it will lay charges against the miner.

The commissioners will report their findings on the Pike River coal mine disaster by 31 March next year.

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