Expert Says New Zealand Mine Disaster Was Predicted

Posted July 14th, 2011 at 1:55 am (UTC-5)
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An expert witness told an inquiry into New Zealand's deadliest mining accident in a century that he had warned the mine's operators they were inviting disaster.

Harry Bell, a former chief inspector of the nation's coal mines, testified Thursday that the Pike River mine where 29 men died in November had only one entrance and an inadequate gas ventilation system. He said he had warned the mine's managers that the design was “madness.”

Bell said he provided the Pike River managers with plans for improving the mine's ventilation system, but never heard back from them.

Underground methane explosions on November 19 and 24 set off a fierce fire that prevented workers from entering the mine to attempt a rescue. A coroner later concluded the 29 miners must have died from burns, concussions or suffocation shortly after the first explosion.

Another witness at the inquiry, former chief coal mine inspector Robin Bell, testified Wednesday that changes in federal legislation in the 1990s had weakened the agency responsible for inspecting mines, contributing to the Pike River disaster.

The accident was New Zealand's deadliest since 65 miners were killed at the Brunner Mine in 1896.

Following the accident, the mining company was placed in receivership and most of its employees were laid off.