I am doing a speech on health and safety tomorrow. Been thinking about Pike. Bernie Monk rang yesterday. Bridges is in Gisborne Herald today saying all the reports needed on Forestry have been written. In my speech tomorrow I Will read this bit out from the Inquiry into Pike – it is as powerful as story as there is against his complacency. It should be part of every school curriculum. Those that listened to the victim impact statements for Pike last week will have heard Daniel Rockhouse say sometimes he wished he had died in Pike River Mine (his loved brother Ben did!).
36. Nearing 3.45pm Daniel Rockhouse was in the drift en route to stub 2 to uplift the gravel required for road repairs at the ABM worksite. He stopped at the diesel bay at the pit bottom in stone to fill his loader with diesel and water. The loader was parked with the engine running. While he was turning on a water valve there was a bright white flash and he felt an extreme pressure blast. Felled by the explosion, Daniel Rockhouse hit his head and ended up lying on his back. His first impression was that the loader had blown up, but he then realised that the engine was still running, although spluttering. He turned if off. Small amounts of debris fell from the roof and the ribs, although there was no cave-in. Within seconds a pungent strong smell, and dense smoke, reached the area. The atmosphere was warm and breathing became difficult.
37. To escape the effects, Daniel Rockhouse went inbye towards the crushing station. It was clearer, but there was no place of refuge. He donned and activated his self-rescuer and moved back out to the main drift. The self-rescuer did not seem to be working properly so he discarded it. In the drift, next to his loader, he was overcome and fell to the ground again. He shouted out for help, but there was no response. His eyes watered, his body tingled and he thought he was ‘shutting down’. He lapsed into unconsciousness.
38. After some time he revived and sensed that feeling had returned to his fingers and toes. He was shivering with cold from lying in the mud. He tried to roll onto his stomach and push himself up, but he had no strength. Eventually he managed to stand, fell again and then was able to reach compressed air and water lines that ran along the rib. He turned on an outlet valve on the air line. There was only limited pressure, but enough flow to clear the smoke from around him. The fresh air was ‘like gold’.
39. After a minute or two breathing the fresh air and relieving the stinging of his eyes, Daniel Rockhouse looked for a telephone. Just inbye of his loader he located telephone 353 and rang the emergency number, 555. The telephone rang, but no one answered before the call was diverted to an answering service. He then dialled 410, the control room number. Mr Duggan answered the phone. Daniel Rockhouse said he was not injured, but that he could not see or breathe. At this point Mr White took the telephone, was told that the air seemed to be clearing and instructed Daniel Rockhouse to ‘stay low’, get to the FAB about 500m outbye and make contact from there.
40. There is no record of the telephone call, or of its timing. However, it is apparent that Daniel Rockhouse made the call at approximately 4.40pm and that Mr Duggan answered it soon after his call to St John Ambulance. Immediately after Mr Strydom contacted him, Mr Duggan telephoned the MRS at 4.26pm. He then called and spoke to the St John operator until 4.30pm, twice mentioning he had not heard from anyone underground. Had Daniel Rockhouse already rung Mr Duggan, he would undoubtedly have said so.
41. It follows that Daniel Rockhouse was unconscious for a significant period, perhaps 50 minutes or so, after the explosion at 3.45pm until he made the phone call about 4.40pm.
42. After the phone call Daniel Rockhouse followed the compressed air and water lines along the rib and proceeded outbye. As he found outlet valves he opened them and breathed in fresh air. He left the valves open, thinking this would improve the atmosphere. About 300m outbye he encountered a vehicle stationary in the drift. A few metres beyond it, he found Russell Smith lying semi-conscious on the ground, with his eyes open, but rolling back in his head. He could hardly speak. He was not wearing a helmet and light. Daniel Rockhouse removed Mr Smith’s self-rescuer from his belt, opened it and tried to insert the mouthpiece into the other man’s mouth. He could not do so. Daniel Rockhouse discarded the self-rescuer, lifted Mr Smith from behind and dragged him outbye towards the FAB.
43. Mr Smith was also in C crew. He had missed the bus to the mine and was late for the 1.00pm start of the shift. He was driving into the mine when the explosion struck. Minutes before he had passed the McConnell Dowell drift runner heading outbye. He received no warning before there was a flash of bright light and a deafening noise, followed by a shock wave. The pressure was unrelenting. In an attempt to escape it, Mr Smith lowered himself to gain protection within the cabin of the vehicle. As breathing became difficult he attempted to remove a self-rescuer from his belt, but he was in an awkward position and could not do so.
44. Mr Smith could remember nothing after this. He had no recollection of his rescue by Daniel Rockhouse. He came to in an ambulance en route to Greymouth Hospital. Subsequently, he realised he had minor pitted abrasions to his face and back. His speech was affected in the short term, as was his respiratory system.
45. On reaching the FAB, Daniel Rockhouse propped Mr Smith up in a sitting position against the rib and said ‘I’ll be back in a sec’ . The FAB was a shipping container converted to include a two-door sealable entrance. Daniel Rockhouse thought it would provide a fresh air source, a telephone and spare self-rescuers. In fact, he found it had been decommissioned.
46. After venting his anger, Daniel Rockhouse returned to Mr Smith, got him to his feet and continued to drag him in an outbye direction. After a time he paused and asked Mr Smith whether he could walk. He tried, managed a few steps, but then fell. Daniel Rockhouse lifted him up again, and found that, if he supported Mr Smith, they could walk in tandem, with Daniel Rockhouse holding the rail of the conveyor belt to his left side for support. Periodically the pair stopped and looked inbye, hoping to see other lights coming down the drift. There were none. Daniel Rockhouse continued to open air valves as they went. To motivate Mr Smith, he told him to think of his family and to keep his legs moving for them.
Two Miners Walk Out of the Portal
47. As they progressed outbye, the atmosphere became clearer and it was easier to breathe. Natural ventilation provided a fresh air flow inbye from the portal. At 5.26pm the two men completed the 1500m walk from the FAB to the portal. From the time of the phone call at 4.40pm it had taken them 46 minutes to walk out of the mine. No one was there to meet them. Daniel Rockhouse used the DAC to call the control room for help. Vehicles arrived at the portal within minutes. Mr Smith was incoherent and Daniel Rockhouse broke down. Paramedics gave both men oxygen and they were taken by ambulance to Greymouth Hospital.