Brian Edwards Media

The Pike River Mine Disaster – Patience and Self-Control Beyond Reason?

  
 

Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald

When you have read this post, please go to this link to an interview with one of the lost miners’ families on tonight’s Campbell Live.  

***** 

 Handling of mine crisis appalling  

 I am appalled by the police and the company’s handling of the Pike River coalmine disaster.  

Their assuming that this is a “search and rescue” operation seems to allow the police to act centre-stage and to deny access to those who are desperately anxious to help.  

When did the police stop someone going to a burning car, to a snowfield avalanche area or to a baby in a room with an escape of natural gas, because of the danger to the potential rescuers? Yet here they await a secure environment for rescue – not that common after mine disasters.  

If I, at the age of 87, were to offer to don appropriate equipment and walk the distance needed in an underground coalmine to get valuable information on gas levels or survivors, I know I would have hundreds of volunteers to accompany me. We might only find unwelcome news of corpses but that would be a bonus in the present environment.  

I’ve walked that distance daily to the coal face in South Wales mines. I’ve been among  miners and their families there, on the West Coast and in the Waikato. Such people have been prepared to die for their mates for centuries. Why should a small group carrying no more than needed for that short, possibly suicidal mission be denied the opportunity of gathering vital information for mates and their community?  

I accept those in authority have extensive search and rescue experience. I have only a first class honours degree in Mining Engineering from the Royal School of Mines at Imperial College, London University.  

David Kear, Ohope (former director-general, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research)  

Let Locals Help  

The news that no mine rescue will be attempted “until it’s safe” has a depressingly familiar sound.  

During the Wahine ferry disaster the police closed off the road south of Eastbourne because “it is too dangerous” and “we need to keep the road open for emergency services”.  

Meanwhile, exhausted people were drowning in the breakers, heavy lifeboats were being crushed on to rocks and “the authorities” were right, it was very dangerous.  

Locals arriving with ropes, blankets and local knowledge were turned away until they rebelled, pushed aside the earnest young constable on guard and went in to save dozens of lives.  

By all means keep out the sightseers, but not knowledgeable locals, such as miners in this case. They just might know something.  

And yes, many of the Wahine helpers were injured, and some could have been killed. It was a risk they were prepared to take and they knew exactly what they were doing.  

In a disaster, safety is not possible; the only choice is between degrees of danger and that requires local knowledge. “Secure the area” often means “secure our authority”.  

            Charles Lockhead, Devonport  

  

Those two letters appeared in this morning’s Herald. It seems to me that they poignantly express what many of us may have felt watching the press conferences being held by the authorities handling the ‘search and rescue’ efforts at the Pike River mine – that, despite their frequent expressions of sympathy and understanding, the police in particular have failed to respond to the will of the West Coast mining community or to fully comprehend the superhuman nature, the near impossibility in terms of patience and self-control, of what they continue to expect the families and friends of those 29  trapped men to endure. I have no doubt whatsoever that Superintendent Gary Knowles, who is heading the operation, genuinely believes that in refusing to let anyone go into the mine, he is acting in the best interests of both the rescuers and the trapped miners. And he has international best practice on his side. But as I watch his cogent, rational and contained answers to questions about why, after five days, no-one has been allowed to venture down those 2 kilometres,  I find myself sharing some of the frustration and anger that is increasingly evident in the community. And I have no son, no father, no brother, no uncle, no friend buried, alive or dead, in that hell.

81 Comments:

  1. Perhaps Gary Knowles “genuinely believes” what he does because he knows his arse from his elbow — and making people (and the media) feel good isn’t his bloody job? Just a thought.

  2. Completely agree.I would have preferred a mining rescue expert to head the rescue.I also thought I heard that the volatile gases were dispersed and that only poisonous gases remained.Whatever the reality it is obvious that the mine did not have a suitable rescue plan in place.Hopefully a positive result will be forthcoming and a better rescue policy put in place.

  3. The anger and frustration is entirely understandable.

    However all the evidence internationally, and therefore the training and instructions tell us that the most likely result of sending in volunteers like these letters have outlined is more people in danger. It is difficult enough to rescue 29 miners, without having to rescue another six from an unprepared rescue team that went in too early.

    This isn’t a Sylvester Stallone action movie.

    • This isn’t a Sylvester Stallone action movie.

      I wonder why you feel the need to express yourself like that, Kyle. Do you think I am so stupid or so shallow as to regard it as a ‘Sylvester Stallone movie’? Did my post or the two Herald letters sound like that?

  4. Remember when the little boats from Dover went out in the rough seas to effect the rescue from Dunkirk during WWII?

    During such times, people rally together, throw caution to the wind, and set about making history.

    No-one stood up and said ‘wait – it’s too dangerous.’

    What is happening in Pike River is a catastrophe in the making – NZ’ers should watch and learn. It happened in 1998 during the Foveaux Strait plane crash, where authorities made assumptions and were polarised into inactivity (or wrong activity) – which cost lives.

    The Govt, Police, NZ Mines Rescue, and effected families will rue the lack of decision making in this disaster, for years to come.

  5. Must be very very hard for the families…..Gary Knowles problem is that he comes across so bloody badly…….they need another police front man.

    • Gary Knowles problem is that he comes across so bloody badly

      Yes, I think that’s right and it really isn’t his fault. How we come across is a very complex thing, often difficult to analyse. And ‘coming across well’ probably isn’t a prioirity in his everyday work as a senior police officer. Given the fragility of the relatives’ emotions in this tragedy, however, it does assume some relevance here.

  6. Several, quite feasible rescue scenarios have already been put forward. I can’t honestly understand why none of them have been taken up.

  7. You obviously have no idea how dangerous a coal mine is, and the fact the the mine is on fire should be obvious to you that a rescue would be an absolute miracle.

    The bigger issue here is not about anger and frustration it is about being realistic and preparing families and loved ones for the most likely situation as horrific and sad as it may seem.

    Who would choose false hope over the chance to accept what has happened and start the grieving process?

    • The bigger issue here is not about anger and frustration it is about being realistic

      I don’t disagree with some of what you say, but ‘being realistic’ needs to include the fact that there is a growing sense of anger and frustration in the community.

  8. Greymouth is just bizarre atm. My kids have to go to school with media packs across the road because the council chambers are there and that is where they brief the families. They ring the school bell early to get the kids out of the play ground so that they don’t see distraught family members leaving.

    I believe that if the local rescue guys could go in, nothing and no one would stop them from entering the mine a rescuing their friends.

    Hearing speculation and demands for heroics is so frustrating and hurtful. It’s black days here in Greymouth.

  9. Several, quite feasible rescue scenarios have already been put forward. I can’t honestly understand why none of them have been taken up.

    What scenarios are these?

  10. I don’t doubt the validity of the questions being posed. I just don’t think this is the time to ask them.

    • I don’t doubt the validity of the questions being posed. I just don’t think this is the time to ask them.

      You may be right, but those questions are being asked now by those most entitled to ask them.

  11. I understand the frustration and anger of everyone I am in australia in the coalmines have worked with a few of these men that are trapped underground and am watching the news constantly but all this blame and finger pointing at people in charge is’nt helping anyone.
    I have my own son working underground and my heart goes out to the likes of Laurie Drew who must be going through hell at the moment I think if it was me I would have lost it by now and grabbed a CABA and stormed underground regardless, which as a mines deputy I know is irrisponsible.
    I hope and prey that they will all walk out, to all the parents, wives, children and relations of these brave men have faith in these men they are all well trained and strong men or they would never have been there in the first place.

  12. Come on guys have some respect here for those that are willing to help. There are dangerous gases involved here which makes this a more volitile situation that has the potential to have a bad outcome if things are not done properly so stop comparing a boat rescue to this the 2 are on 2 completely different ends of the scale in terms of dangerous. I am glad that there are people with common sense that are complying to safety first you certainly do not want any more explosions making the rescue even more difficult. Let those who know what they are doing and talking about get on and do their jobs and stop stomping your feet like little children. What the families need is suppport so instead of putting all of your focus on critisizing the rescuers etc how about turning your focus on giving these families the support that they need right now to get through this and keep hoping that things will calm down and a good outcome happes here.

    • Come on guys have some respect here for those that are willing to help.

      All right, this is a valid viewpoint. But have a look at the video from tonigt’s Campbell Live, which I have just added to the post. I am, to a very real extent, merely reflecting the views and feelings of many of the families whose relatives are down the mine.

  13. I agree if someone is willing to go down and knowingly risk their life to save their loved one, they should be allowed to go.
    Should Hillary have gone up that dangerous mountain? Should those who have torn people from burning cars be awarded medals of bravery or warnings that they should not have put themselves in danger?
    Gary Knowles is, I think inadvertently, upsetting to listen to.Just on TV1 News he says what terrible conditions the drillers are working in and drilling was halted as a driller was treated for a broken leg – but the ambulance people found it was sprained. Totally stupid upsetting comment. Trivialises the effort saying stupid things like that. Sadly, he makes unfortunate comment.
    Keep up hope. Hope is the ration the families and mates are allowed.

  14. I don’t disagree with some of what you say, but ‘being realistic’ needs to include the fact that there is a growing sense of anger and frustration in the community.

    I’m still at a loss as to what you’re saying ought be done.

    • I’m still at a loss as to what you’re saying ought be done.
      I’m sorry, Russell, but with the best will in the world that is a preposterous question to ask me. The best I can do is to refer you to tonight’s item on Campbell Live, which I have just added to the post.

  15. Whoops. Let’s try quoting Brian again:

    I don’t disagree with some of what you say, but ‘being realistic’ needs to include the fact that there is a growing sense of anger and frustration in the community.

    I’m still at a loss as to what you’re saying ought be done.

  16. I agree if someone is willing to go down and knowingly risk their life to save their loved one, they should be allowed to go.

    Even at the risk of triggering an explosion that kills the people you’re trying to rescue? Because that’s actually what you’re talking about here.

    • I agree if someone is willing to go down and knowingly risk their life to save their loved one, they should be allowed to go.

      And that’s all that’s being said. There are such people and they are being prevented from doing so.

  17. Bje

    So you would be ok if the rescuers lost their lives in an attempt to save these 29 people becuase they ignored safety first you cannot compare Hillary to this they are on opposite ends of the scale I just wonder if you realise just how serious dangerous gases are there are safety proceedures that need to be adhered to that have been put in place for a reason to protect people I just don’t you have thought about things at all.

  18. But they are being prevented from entering the mine because their actions could trigger another explosion. It’s not about them giving their own life, it’s about them making the situation massively worse and killing any survivors.

  19. At the media briefing after the blast video footage I thought John Campbell asked the right question.The footage was held back to achieve what purpose?Perhaps subconsciously we were all picking up a far gloomier possibilty than we were being told.

  20. I don’t disagree with most of what is being said. But, if a person who understands the risks, poisonous exploding gases and all, steps forward and says I have the skills and ability to do the job: ‘i’ll go, I’m no hero but I am willing to risk my life to help bring this to an end’. Then I believe the Police are compelled to accept that offer and support them in their efforts. I personaly think the authorities are being risk-averse in the extreme.

  21. Read my post again Debbie. I do not think anyone should be SENT down.

  22. It’s not about them giving their own life, it’s about them making the situation massively worse and killing any survivors.

    Further to this, and to Russell’s point about putting any survivors at further risk, it’s also about the possibility that even more people will be obliged to risk their lives to rescue a person who rushed in and created more trouble.

    Intending no disrepect to the families, the primary responsibility of Gary Knowles and his team is not to families and their frustrations or the media. It’s to the people in danger, and also to people known to be alive and well. So far there’s no evidence that that risk of extra lives will be of any use, and (as much as I dislike saying it) a fair amount of evidence that it probably won’t be.

    I hope things don’t turn out so badly, but it’s not unheard of that it may never be possible to get down this mine safely, as happened with the Moura mining disasters in 1975 and 1994. Seriously though, this is the kind of potential danger that’s being dealt with in a volatile coal mine.

    Regardless of what happens in the next few days, I hope the accident results in better preparation and planning for what to do to avert similar situations and have better templates for response plans in future. Whether it’s just for this particular mine or if it’s the industry as a whole, it does seem as if there’s not much of a plan for what to do.

  23. Yet another cheap shot from Campbell. If he wanted to have a crack at someone over Pike River couldn’t he have lined up someone like Prime Minister Key, or Minister Brownlee, or any of the other politicians grandstanding down there, without using his position to provide fodder for the opinionated, semi-informed who are experts on everything to do with the police these days from road crashes to homicide investigations. And now, add resuce missions to the list. Huh? Gary Knowles didn’t get on his knees and plead with someone to be put in this position I shouldn’t think. He has been placed in a situation where he has to judge a welter of no doubt conflicting advice. I would be absolutely sure that long before the letter writers to the Herald got their few lines of fame, Gary Knowles had heard what they had to say. From people currently in the field too. Not “former” experts from a different era of technological knowledge and expertise. I’m just sad, Brian, that you had to reference Campbell as your point of discussion for this sad event. That item was just about as sick a bit of ratings drivel as I have come across. I turned it off part way through watching it. But since you referenced it I have gone to the link and watched the whole sad, sorry apology for “news”.

    • Yet another cheap shot from Campbell.

      I’m of the view that both sides in this debate are genuine in what they say and that both views can be sustained. So I think it’s unfortunate when commentators feel lthe need to abuse one another. Your reference to the two men who wrote to the Herald this morning as having ‘got their few lines of fame’ really is unwworthy. As for Campbell’s piece being ‘just about as sick a bit of ratings drivel as I have come across,’ you are referring to the views of one family desperate for the return of their family member. Almost the entire item was them talkikng without interruption or prompting from Campbell. Your ‘sadness’ would be better directed to them than dismissing what they said as ‘ratings drivel’.

  24. Yes, but campbell gave them the platform, knowing full well what they were going to say.

    Your suggestion that there are two “sides in this debate” is similar to the line run by creationists, where one side is merely hoping to get enough coverage to try to appear as a credible alternative in the face of overwhelming scientific data.

    • Yes, but campbell gave them the platform, knowing full well what they were going to say.

      Not really sure how creationists got into this debate, Sean. But in this matter, as in so many matters, there are two sides and both are reasonable and logically sustainable. One can argue coherently that, given the possible risks to both rescuers and the entombed miners, no attempt at rescue should be made until there is reasonable certaintly about the gas levels in the mine. One can argue coherently that, given the intolerable mental strain on the families and the willingness of other miners to take what they regard as the calculated risk of entering the mine and the albeit remote possibility that one or more of the trapped miners is still alive, this course of action should be allowed to proceed. I must say I envy you the certaintily that only one course of action is right and that you know which course of action it is. I’m sure you are the exception, but that is usually the credo of a fool.

  25. The “culture of safety” we now enjoy requires that no unfortunate event can be mitigated,in any way,for any reason,by any person,or persons,who are willing to suffer personal risk,unless they are officially sanctioned,and,even then :probably not.
    The age of the Hero is at an end.
    This message brought to you by the same agency who hid around the corner while the victims family pleaded with the police that the assailant had fled,and a man lay dying on the floor of his store.

  26. Since this is a media blog…

    SaR coordinators typically deal with smaller incidents involving few missing or injured people. Often events are over before the media gets a sniff of interest. The processes and risk assessments generally work well, and aren’t usually subject to media scrutiny as is happening right now because by the time anyone notices, they’ve usually already proved themselves to have been the best option under the circumstances.

    This case is quite different, however, because it’s of huge interest, and it’s not going away quickly, and the risk assessment is most likely saying there are some very extreme risks for no clear gain, which means not a lot is happening.

    I wonder if part of the issue here is that nobody (police included) seem to be willing to say out loud what the SaR coordinators are probably basing their risk assessment on, and in turn that’s just fuelling people’s opinions about bad decisions. I’m guessing from an uninformed viewpoint and I hope I’m wrong. But what could SaR coordinators be doing differently that could possibly make this better and get them out of a no-win situation?

  27. It appears to me that the window of opportunity was directly after the blast when most of the gases would have been burnt up. The miners only have 30 minutes of oxygen with their survival kits. Wounded miners may not have had an opportunity to get to safe havens. So they suffocate after 30 min.
    Any survivors would have likely needed attention straight away.
    A thought… if the strongman mine explosion had happened in this day and age would the miners have seen a rescue team? No! Rescue teams went in within 30 minutes on that occasion.
    If 2 wounded miners could come out without assistance from the Pike mine then surely at least a few rescue people with hazard gear on should have gone in right away. No difference. What about the 3 men who were on their way out, what happened to them? I have no idea why the police are running this. To be honest I am a bit embarrassed by it. Its almost like we have gone to PC and have got far to much OSH involved concerning this. Even if they all died straight away I think the response is not right. I truly hate the lack of courage here. Would any of you seeing a person trapped and hurt in a burning car not try and help them get out even if it means the car might explode?
    First instincts are do it before they surely die.
    Not well – lets call the police and wait. Its not right.

  28. My view is that if the blast footage was released to the families and public earlier it would have silenced some of the critisism around allowing rescuers into the mine.Having an appropriate leader and media liason would have also helped issues.I consider the CEO has performed great service.Some of the lessons that will be learnt here should already have been best practice.

  29. PJR, I think you’re right. I guess with this situation being unprecedented (at least for a while) there are many details for which there aren’t yet clear guidelines. Probably they’ve had more immediate concerns than helping families and the public come to terms with what’s happened, but maybe something’ll be learned and it’ll be done differently next time.

    Media reports and publicity of grieving families, as well as terminology, probably make sense from a media perspective, but it’s also creating a heap of heuristic traps for anyone trying to analyse the risks and benefits based on what’s being shown.

    Despite being a Search and Rescue op (therefore requiring police to coordinate it as per the chart at the end of this page), parts of what’s happening are more something Civil Defence might normally have to deal with.

    When people look back on this I don’t think it’ll be seen as an inability for rescuers to help. It’ll be more about how the accident happened in the first place, and whether any better preparation could have been put in place to give people a chance to somehow survive an initial blast, and then survive for the long period of time it’s almost certainly going to take for rescuers to get in. Maybe it’ll be about whether the mine should’ve been there in the first place or whether it was sensible to dig under a national park (or whether DoC should have granted more consents). No doubt the media will find a few people to pounce on in this respect, and hopefully (if they’re smart) they’ll call in some Australian media expertise, because there will be far more media knowledge over there about mining issues.

  30. Southpark has a new superhero – Captain Hindsight (Jack Brolin) – A former news reporter that has gained the power of extraordinary hindsight through a freak accident involving a retroactive spider.

    Scene at a burning building:
    Firefighter: “There’s people trapped in that burning building, Captain Hindsight!”
    Other Firefighter: “And the fire is so massive, we can’t get to them!”
    Captain Hindsight: “Hm. You see those windows on the right side? They should have built fire escapes on those windows for the higher floors, then people could have gotten down. And then on the roof; they should have built it with a more reinforced structure, so a helicopter could have landed on it.”
    Firefighter: “Yes, of course!”
    Captain Hindsight: “And then you see that building to the left?” –
    Firefighter: “Yes!”
    Captain Hindsight: “They shouldn’t have built that there, because now you can’t park any firetrucks where you really need to. Well, looks like my job here is done. Goodbye everyone!”
    Firefighter: “Thank you, Captain Hindsight!”
    Everyone: “Cheers”

  31. What about the 3 men who were on their way out, what happened to them?

    They never existed. It was baseless report, whose spread was aided by, among others, Stephen Parker of 3 News.

    I have no idea why the police are running this. To be honest I am a bit embarrassed by it. Its almost like we have gone to PC and have got far to much OSH involved concerning this. Even if they all died straight away I think the response is not right. I truly hate the lack of courage here. Would any of you seeing a person trapped and hurt in a burning car not try and help them get out even if it means the car might explode?

    What you’re seeing is stone-cold professionalism forged from grim experience. You have the luxury of blathering about “political correctness” from your armchair. Knowles doesn’t.

    FWIW, I thought the Campbell piece was fair enough. The family was coherent, they wanted to speak, he didn’t lead them.

    By contrast, the Joseph Dunbar story that led 3 News last night was an utter disgrace.

  32. I’m still at a loss as to what you’re saying ought be done.

    I’m sorry, Russell, but with the best will in the world that is a preposterous question to ask me.

    Given that you’ve criticised the official response quite strongly, I don’t think asking what you think should have been done is unreasonable.

    • Given that you’ve criticised the official response quite strongly, I don’t think asking what you think should have been done is unreasonable.

      Yes, your point is well made. I really should have drawn a distinction between my inability to make detailed suggestions on what should be done, which patently I am not in a position to do, and my general point that the those responsible for the ‘search and rescue’ really needed to pay greater heed to the agonising frustration, increasingly turning to anger, being experienced by the relatives of the trapped men. That is still my position. Curiously enough, I was speaking today to a member of the Waihi Mine Rescue Team whose view was that the communication to the public by the police had been poor at best. It took him two minutes to explain to me how one trouser leg brushing against another could produce enough static electricity to cause a further explosion as someone walked along those 2 kilometres.

  33. This was a huge blunder by Pike River management and the police, delaying the release of the mine’s escaping gasses. The outcome is obvious — whoever was deep inside, could not have survived. The exit point was over 2km from the source, and the explosive outflow from the mine entrance resembled a gale. Also, the outside vents, which were blown apart, would’ve acted as partial release valves. So, what was witnessed on CCTV, was not the full force.It’s inconceivable how anyone could’ve withstood the shock waves, together with the explosive blast furnace gasses.

    Had this been known, all speculation, second-guessing and theorising would’ve abated. Everyone, would have had a better understanding of the situation.

    The question needs to be asked as to “Why the delay in releasing the footage?” If not to the media, at least, to the family members.

  34. Why are the Police handling a mine rescue operation? Aren’t they meant to handle crime? Don’t we have specialized agencies/operatives better suited to the mission? NZ 25 years behind – as ever!

  35. MikeM has drawn our attention to a distinct possibility. The “rescuers” may never go in. The mine may be a tomb – sealed off forever.

    Not because they’re incompetent, cowardly, ill equipped or 3rd rate Kiwis (as opposed to our heroic, staunch, well resourced Aussie big brothers)… but because its really, really #@$%en dangerous.

    Being skeptical about those in charge is important…but sometimes it’s dignified to just back off a bit…

  36. Why are the Police handling a mine rescue operation? Aren’t they meant to handle crime? Don’t we have specialized agencies/operatives better suited to the mission?

    Skat – Police coordinate Search and Rescue operations because it’s their legislated role, and certain members of the police are trained specially to do this. That’s why you can dial 111 and ask for the Police Search and Rescue Coordination Centre. There are memorandums of understanding for police to work pretty fluently with other organisations all over (volunteer and otherwise) like DoC and LandSAR, USAR (for urban search and rescue), Coastguard. Maritime NZ, the New Zealand Speleological Society (for caving) a whole heap of other groups such as the Army and various helicopter services, and other specialist rescue groups.

    I don’t know what specifically happens in mining situations, but you can bet that Police aren’t making decisions by themselves. They’ll be fronting it and making sure that people who actually are experts for the situation (as well as could be expected) are well informed and coordinated, and then where necessary, taking responsibility for decision. At least that’s what they should be doing.

  37. Why are the Police handling a mine rescue operation? Aren’t they meant to handle crime? Don’t we have specialized agencies/operatives better suited to the mission? NZ 25 years behind – as ever!

    Because that is the practice prescribed by the National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan. By default in the plan, the police are the lead agency.

    New Zealand uses the Coordinated Incident Management System, which is based on international best practice. Most developed countries use some version of this practice, I gather.

    And there is a specialist agency at the mine: the Mines Rescue Service. Its chief says the same thing as the police do about the risks of entering the mine.

    Can I suggest you now use Google before inflicting any more ignorance on the world?

  38. What do I suggest? Well if a single person equipped with oxygen as firemen and divers are, was to walk in for 2 and a half Km using nothing but a light, he would be not able to set off an explosion but could be destroyed if one did occur. Walking slowly it would take about an hour in and an hour out. If he was able to do this walk, his report would govern the subsequent actions of rescue or recovery.
    Yes. Yes. I know that I am not an expert. But one can imagine.

    • What do I suggest?

      Have a look at my reply to Russell Brown, ianmac, to discover why even walking may not be a safe option.

  39. Just ask for volunteers to go in and assess the situation… There will be no shortage of guys willing to offer themselves. JUST DO IT!!

  40. “Yes. Yes. I know that I am not an expert. But one can imagine.”

    And that’s the problem with a lot of our opinions…they’re based on imagination.

    My imagination reckons we need someone to invent a giant plastic ball that has enough air to breath for a week and is propelled by the action of walking…it could have robot arms strong enough to lift boulders and a TV camera so we could all watch. And a beer fridge. WHY HAVEN”T THEY BUILT ONE!

  41. I remember several search and rescue operations over the years when local knowledge was ignored by the police, the Wahine disaster and the Kaimai air crash, for example. I don’t believe this is one of them. Their only real boob so far was in not ascertaining whether there were better robots than MOD’s bomb disposal gadget, and in not having backups ready to go. there’ll be a limit as to how many they send in, or the robots will be tripping over stuck robots.
    I understand one problem is that if they pump air in, any fire will be fed and will create more methane. There have been cases where people rushing to the rescue have made matters worse, I think there was one in Australia where rescuers triggered a secondary explosion. My coal miner grandfather used to talk about an incident at Hikurangi, when three members of one family went down one after the other and succumbed to gas.
    Full marks to the way the families are protected from halfwit journos shoving microphones at them and asking how they feel.

  42. Peter Whittall, CEO is saying very clearly that the only obstacle is the risk of another explosion.

    “It’s a matter of the mine exploding while they’re in there,” he told reporters …

    It’s been 5 days and there has not been another explosion so far. Common sense says that a rescuer in rubber boots won’t trigger an explosion either.

    So, they have had 5 days in which they could have walked in part way and back out to report the conditions near the entrance.

  43. I think that several experts have said that the risk is not the toxic gases (breathing devices overcome this) – its secondary explosions, either caused spontaneously or inadvertently by rescuers.

    Spontaneous explosions now seem unlikely given the time that has elapsed without any, but it cannot be guaranteed.

    Miners have special non-sparking equipment and know all about preventing this as part of their everyday work.

    Safety issues always involve a balanced judgement of the risks, and one would think that when so many lives are involved it is reasonable to accept some level of risk.

    I won’t criticise the decision to further delay rescue attempts by specialist trained volunteers, but at what point will this occur? When 2,3 or 4 robots have been sent in and failed? When 3 weeks have passed?

  44. So Russell Brown (in response to your post on letting those willing to risk their lives for their loved ones) Aren’t you concerned robots could trigger an explosion?

  45. The standard of journalism has reached a new low for me. I find journalists’ questions to be frustrating, poorly researched, rude and largely irrelevent. They are asking the wrong questions and keeping the public misinformed. If it were not for Google I would still be uninformed about strategy for escape and rescue from coal mines and about the rationale for decision not going in.

    “Since the formation of the first coal mines rescue service in Australia in 1910, it appears that only 6 persons have been rescued alive by the service whilst at least 11 rescue personnel have died during rescue operations.”
    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docket/pdfs/NIOSH-154/0154-070108-galvin.pdf , p27.

    I still want to know whether the survivors are receiving psychological help in accordance with best practice (survivors are prone to depression and suicide), what were the plans for communication with miners in such an event; how were they trained to act in self rescue; do refuge chambers exist as they do in South African mines; are emergency plans current and did they show where to put bore holes before the accident?

    The available documentation on best practice raises many more questions that I find to be of interest, but journalists have failed to ask them.

  46. So as I’m writing this, a second explosion has just been reported.

    It’s really a moral question whether people should be allowed to risk themselves, and nobody will ever agree on it completely, especially when strong emotions and stress are involved.

    I don’t know why the specific decisions have been made here, but so far I don’t think they seem like bad decisions. Things will be reviewed once this is over and some specific procedures might or might not change, but it’s been established in SaR for a long time that the first responsibility is to people who are alive and well, and making sure they stay that way, especially when there’s no clear reason for more people to be at risk. (Dead rescuers are useless and make a tragedy worse, injured rescuers create more problems for everyone else.) This has been learned painfully through situations being made worse over and over again.

    I’d guess what’s been happening here from the start is a presumption that survivors have been unlikely thanks to what was known about the explosion. The focus is probably to be searching for any sign that this is untrue without putting more people at risk. If there’s actually proof discovered of someone still alive against odds, the numbers all change and it might make sense to take higher risks in getting to them, or at least getting them more supplies so they can possibly even get themselves out, especially if there’s useful information like exactly where they are and what state they’re in and everything needed to get them out as quickly and safely as possible with minimal risk to whoever’s doing it.

    I still think something wrong here is with a lack of ability to get proof of any possible survivors without putting more people into some very volatile and uncontrollable danger. Maybe that’s an issue for mining engineers to address in future, or maybe it’s something about rescue resources for which the need hadn’t been foreseen, or maybe it’s just a problem that’s too complex to solve. If one of these overseas robots finally manages to get in and around the place easily to show all the information that everyone’s been starved of for days, it’d probably be a good investment to have one or two nearby and on call for the future.

  47. Rescuers are said to be entering the mine after the 2nd explosion .I know with hindsight its easy to criticise but the entire rescue effort seems to be ill prepared with plans changing all the time.Its time to wake up .I feel the CEO has done a great job and send my greatest sympathies to all their family and friends.

  48. Rescuers are said to be entering the mine after the 2nd explosion. […] I feel the CEO has done a great job and send my greatest sympathies to all their family and friends.

    PJR, as Grant Hardy said above, there’s a relatively safe window of opportunity directly after an explosion.

    If people should have entered the mine straight after the first blast, shouldn’t that have been a responsibility of the mining company to have an appropriate response plan and qualified emergency crew on site at all times so it could actually happen? Maybe it’ll occur around similar mines in future now that it’s clear this sort of thing can really happen.

  49. R.I.P.

  50. Agree MikeM There seemed to be a lack of suitable plan for this event.

  51. Maybe there is a sort of dichotomy. The huge sympathy we feel for all the victims and families and those hugely brave people who actually have to decide on the actions. A massive responsibility. My admiration is boundless.

    On the other hand there is the speculating and theorising about options and testing of belief systems from a very safe distance, and free from responsibility of decisions. That is me and others and maybe it is OK to explore possibilities. Maybe not. But to just accept everything we are told is not healthy either.

  52. Peter Whittall: Give the man a knighthood – or at least a medal.

  53. I started apportioning bloggers on this site to columns headed ‘correct’, ‘dumb/numb’, ‘wrong’. I progressed through the first twenty posts with a sinking heart realising I was on a hiding to nothing and another night of depression would be my lot. Why have the emotive and uninformed arguments outnumbered those of the thoughtful, pragmatic and practicable? Again, a usually intelligent blog assumes the status of the rankling, base, and utterly fatuous voxpop.

    The earnest (and he so is) CEO is hailed as a messiah-like figure yet is providing expertise and defacto decisions to the figure-head ‘by statute’ non-mining police superintendant who in turn is lambasted by the relatives and some media as a complete tosser who has at least let them down and at worst killed their loved ones. Yet has only acted on the advice of the experts including the CEO.

    Most of you are ignorant and I include David Kear, Charles Lockhead, MitchellAndr, PJR, Kerry, and Lynette.

    So there.

  54. Yeah, this whole thing is very sad, and I don’t envy anyone involved. The decisions are hard ones to make.

    Nobody could ever want to be in Mr Whittal’s situation, but he’s also the CEO of a company whose mine exploded resulting in 29 deaths and endangered many more lives. It’d have to be one of the most devestating workplace accidents in New Zealand’s history.

    So far he’s had the media advantage of being the sympathetic guy next to Mr Knowles’ responsibility of stopping well-meaning martyrs from benevolently throwing themselves head-first into a badly-understood likely death-trap, probably for no useful purpose. I mean no disrespect at this point, but before handing out a medal to Mr Whittal or anyone, I think I’ll wait until it’s clearer what actually happened and why, and whether it could have been averted.

  55. For both Whittal and Knowles:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too…

  56. Interesting discussion, BE , and a very worthwhile one I think. It’s clear that there are no easy options when instinctive hard-wired nurting/defence instincts are in collision with physics and chemistry. I did feel that Russell Brown was grandstanding, though. Google indeed!

  57. Nurturing!!! Facepalm.

  58. I guess Tap and Hum that this is a benchmark example of how to run an incident such as this.Wake up.I dont mean sending men back into the mine either.

  59. To briefly correct something that was posted here, rescuers didn’t rush in after the second explosion as was earlier reported. When Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn was interviewed yesterday, he probably meant to say they were about to go in just prior to the explosion.

    This morning’s DomPost (via Stuff) is pointing out that although it’s often said mines can be entered straight after an explosion, rescuers have previously died in further explosions when attempting exactly this.

  60. PJR you are absolutely right.

  61. From the outset, I think it was a mistake to talk up “hope” when so little existed. The belated showing of the CCTV film footage was all-revealing as to the survival prospects. Fostering hope is one thing, but not at the expense of constructing an illusion of unrealistic optimism for the families and the nation. Pike River Mine management must’ve come to that inescapable conclusion after viewing the CCTV recording.

    In an area of underground confinement, the explosion and resultant conflagration would have created a momentary vacuum, sucking in all the oxygen out of every cavity and crevice; to be replaced by noxious searing-hot gasses. There can be no safe haven chambers under such cataclysmic
    circumstances. The evidence was just so overwhelming, shown by the very violent expelling
    of the air from the entrance, that those deep inside might, very well, have perished in an instant.

    By releasing the footage, it might have taken the pressure off the police, for appearing to be tardy and overly-cautious by not sending in a rescue team in the aftermath of the explosion. This initial “event” could not have been survivable for those deep in the mine. The second explosion, finally, gave an irrefutable pretext for declaring that there was no possible hope for any survival.

  62. Merv, I agree, and hopefully if this kind of thing should ever repeat in future, there will be better guidance for how to handle it and more initiative will be taken to release that kind of information.

    I sympathise with those running things though. With an unprecedented situation, and without the benefit of time to think things through (especially how to deal with 29 families and an irritated media), you’d expect their main priority would have had to be on being absolutely certain there couldn’t be anyone to rescue, and figuring out what on earth to do if there was.

  63. I can’t commend enough the amazing job Peter Whittall has done of constantly fronting up not only to the media but to the famlies involved in a such a compassionate matter, in a time when he could be the bad guy he has showed what promoting from within, what a blue collar guy who has been in the industry all his life rather than a head hunted CEO who is a expert at management,the financials & profits can bring.
    His primary concern has been the workers and their safety of them and any rescue workers.

    There will always be danger in mining, the inquiry will find what was to blame but this should at the end we can only control nature so far.

    Sting : We work the black seam together.

    The seam lies underground
    Three million years of pressure packed it down
    We walk through ancient forest lands
    And light a thousand cities with our hands

    Our conscious lives run deep
    You cling onto your mountain while we sleep
    This way of life is part of me
    There is no price so only let me be

  64. Tena koe e Brian me nga kaikorero koutou,
    Like other Kiwi’s I was glued to the TV and National Radio from the time the story of the first explosion at Pike River broke, hoping for a good outcome and a successful rescue operation.
    Generally I found the kiwi journalists at Sky TV provided the best up to the minute coverage, however I was grateful that foreign journalists – notably the Aussies and a reporter with an American accent – were willing to ask the hard questions, as the families, Coasters and everyone watched and waited, and waited as the story unfolded, with the explosive tragic second blast surprising and shocking us all yesterday afternoon.
    In my view the central police role in the coordination and management of the media was a serious mis-step, and these issues will also need to be addressed in an inquiry some time down the track. The holding back of the footage of the 1st blast last Friday afternoon was ill-conceived, causing as it did (after being finally okayed for belated release to the families and wider public)possibly more anguish for miners’ families over the weekend and into this week. This amounted to police censorship. I also think family members are entitled to all the information they want, including the footage of the second shorter blast yesterday afternoon, and that this should also then be released to the media.
    Politically driven changes that have taken place since the mid-eighties also need scrutiny in the wake of this disaster. Notably, the reorganisation of policing on the West Coast, which was regionalised with Nelson-Tasman some years ago, and is now headed by a top-of-the-south based Superintendant; also changes to the way in which mine inspections are conducted and by whom etc, mine rescue operations are organised, and what is statutorily required in NZ viz a viz Australia, the USA, and the European Union in terms of mine safety and workers conditions etc.
    Coasters are capable, practical, experienced people, and while obviously grateful for welcome expertise and equipment from their Aussie conterparts, the Coast is best placed with its own competent, articulate, trained and experienced people to call the shots in an emergency situation such as this occurring in their region, to their mates, in remote places and terrain they know only too well.
    Poignant for me has been comment from old-timers who lived through the Stockton mine disaster, and relatives of trapped miners.
    In my opinion a stand-out job has been done so far by the Kiwi journo’s working for Sky TV in particular, and also the journo from Breakfast (who used to be on the Business desk mornings), and John Campbell. Thankyou.
    I am a former editor of the (then) independant West Coast Messenger now owned by the Grey Star and ODT. Before that role I was also a reporter and newsreader at Scenicland FM before the sale of the ZM regional radio network by Maurice Williamson (the then Shipley National Government Minister of Communications) to Tony O’Reilly ‘The Radio Network’ – and so was one of 80 regionally based local reporters from local newsrooms throughout NZ, who were made redundant overnight over a decade ago.
    Hoping for a speedy recovery of the men in the mine. Also hoping for some solid investigative journalism covering their recovery, coroners inquests, Govt initiated inquiries etc and what work the EPMU has been doing to support miners at work on the Coast in recent years…
    Solidarity forever. Nga mihi aroha ki nga whanau o Te Tai Poutini me te Ao hurihuri, Iri Sinclair.

  65. In my view the central police role in the coordination and management of the media was a serious mis-step, and these issues will also need to be addressed in an inquiry some time down the track.

    What would West Coasters have done differently if they were in charge, short of possibly releasing more information to the families at an earlier time? I suspect in hindsight, Knowles would likely have done the same thing, but things don’t always happen perfectly when you need to prioritise certain things over the wellbeing of media and families.

    There’s a good write-up on the BBC’s website from the Operation Manager of the Mines Rescue Safety Training Service over there, which details quite nicely why it was impractical and extremely unsafe for rescuers to do much of anything in any short frame of time, either soon after the initial explosion or later on.

    Nothing Knowles decided would have been his own decision alone—you can be sure the Mines Rescue Service, locals who know the mine, and others able to offer qualified advice, were all deeply involved in everything that was decided. Knowles fronts it because it’s his job to put on a hard face and take responsibility for finalising decisions. The current SaR structure has been in place since 2003, and it couldn’t survive this way without support from rescue-related organisations (volunteer and otherwise) all over NZ.

  66. There are simply too many posts to read here, and at the risk of repeating someone else I have to say that IF this incredibly sad disaster was in the past, perhaps the not so long ago past, (maybe under a hundred years ago), the decision to rescue the trapped miners would have been made by the miner’s families AND the rescuers.
    Now in this present time, for some strange reason, that right of decision making has been taken away and claimed by an authority that is not directly linked to the families.
    So the community has to stand back and succumb to another authority that claims the right to make the decisions. I think this is what many are uncomfortable about. I know this is what I am uncommfortable about. And perhaps why I feel so sick about the outcome.

  67. I would like to consider the perceived standards of journalism over the coverage of first, the Christchurch earthquake and secondly the West Coast mining tragedy and ask how important is it that journalists -community story tellers-share a culture with those they are speaking of.
    Nearly all our current television story tellers live in Auckland. My understanding is ‘Close Up’ employs one journalist in the South Island, and that in recent times this position has been vacant.
    So from a world a land away from the daily world of the West Coast of the South Island, and from my home town, Christchurch, these bright eyed youngsters fly into our lives to represent us to what is seen to be an Auckland audience. They use terms like ‘down in the South Island’ and ‘down here’ making it obvious to us that we are being spoken about and not too.
    Is it any wonder then that television- and with it unfortunately Auckland culture- is so maligned from here. Why can we not represent ourselves? 30 years ago even the West Coast had their own resident journalist. -the fondly remembered Jim Breeze. Christchurch ran a news room of a dozen television journalists.

    And television was a respected institution. It was not the preposterous laughing stock it so often and so sadly is spoken of from these shores.