Pike River was known to be dangerous: former safety supervisor

A previous Pike River Coal mine worker says the safety concerns at the site were well known prior to the explosions that killed 29 men in November.

Peter Sattler was a supervisor at the mine until he quit in July last year, citing safety concerns, according to TVNZ.

“I left there primarily because of my concerns at safety of the place," he told TVNZ’s Sunday program.

Sattler, a miner for 35 years was deputy at Pike River for a year before he left because he did not believe he or his men could be made safe at Pike River, under what he says is a backwards system as compared to Australia.

"It was an eye-opener for me, it was like going back in time really."

He also believes the images taken inside the mine definitely indicate the initial blast did not kill all the men as he says the opened fire box shown in the footage could not have been blown open in the explosion.

"I doubt it very much, no, they’re normally…sealed with catches on them,” he said.

That looks very much like a self-rescuer cache…with the lid open."

The self rescue boxes open the possibility for an escape by full oxygen and Sattler believes evidence suggests some have been taken out.

Sattler said three or four self rescuers appear to have been removed, indicating up to four miners may have survived the initial blast.

"I don’t want to say anything that’s going to cause any more concern or hurt for the families of those 29 people…I’ve told you what it looks like to me."

According to spokesman for the families Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael in the tragedy, the image will form part of the families’ submissions to the inquiry.

"It just starts the whole, whole thing all over again, it’s just heartbreaking," Monk said.

The images inside the mine caused the families of victims to ramp up their campaign for a recovery effort at Pike River.

The photo was reportedly passed on to the families of the trapped miners by former employee Jason Bevington who says he took it from a computer screen with his phone camera.

Lawyers will submit that the box could also have contained firefighting equipment.

"I think that’s very, very important to the Royal Commission that we get down there one way or another to find out what happened.

And, I think the families deserve that as well," Monk said.

Sattler’s evidence about the safety in the mine will be heard in the Royal Commission of Inquiry, which is due to conclude on 4 November.

Preliminary hearings were held in April.

"I made my feelings clear on a few occasions, about my safety concerns,” he said.

He said he became concerned about safety issues at the mine "early in the piece".

"There were quite a few things that I saw there that sort of shocked me."

Most of his concerns centred around the risky levels of highly explosive methane gas inside the mine.

Sattler said regulations in Australia give safety officers the power to warn miners from entering the tunnels, but those abilities were not in place at Pike River.

"The whole New Zealand legislation surprised me really," he said.

Mining expert David Fecikert said in January that the tragedy could have been avoided if a mining inspector was employed at the mine.

He says while safety officials do monitor mines around the country, the current system is inferior to the inspector program used until the late 1990’s.

A mining inspector would have seen the dangerous levels of methane gas inside the mine and ordered an evacuation, but the positions were scrapped by the New Zealand government years ago.

Pike River chief executive Peter Whittle declined to comment on Sunday’s latest concerns, saying it is too close to the royal commission hearings.

But when questioned late last year about why there was no tube bundling system, he said they always expected to put one in but "it hasn’t been the right timing for one just because the mine was so small for a tube-bundle and real time has been more than sufficient for us."

Sattler said some workers weren’t aware of the risk and some felt pressure to keep working.

"There was a lot of pressure in the mine up there, it wasn’t performing as it should’ve, their production was nowhere near what they’d anticipated, everyone knew that the mine was heavily in debt."

He claims there were times when management was informed about the risks being taken but the response was simply to "keep your eye on them" and no action was taken.

Last month an audit found safety issues were also present in other New Zealand mines.

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