THE family of a St Andrews man who was one of the 29 victims of the New Zealand coalmine tragedy last November have spoken of their anguish at evidence during an inquiry which suggests there was “major concern” over the lack of easy escape routes.
A Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River disaster is now underway and has heard a string of criticisms of safety at the Greymouth operation.
Malcolm Campbell (25) from St Andrews was one of two Scots killed after two massive explosions ripped through the coalmine - the other was Pete Rodger from Perth - and the inquiry is investigating why the methane gas explosions occurred, the search and rescue mission which followed and how to avoid such disasters.
Malcolm’s parents, dad Malcolm senior and mum, Jane, have emphasised their wish that the inquiry get to the truth and that all possible efforts are made to retrieve the men’s bodies entombed in the mine.
The first phase of the probe has heard of numerous safety concerns and in the latest revelations it has emerged that an audit in the summer of 2009 by the Mines Rescue Service found that the mine’s second means of escape - up a ventilation shaft - would have been “extremely difficult” to use in an emergency.
Evidence was also led that the lack of easily accessible escapes was “a major concern.”
Questioned during the hearing, Pike River chief executive, Peter Whittall, said that workers were expected to walk down the 2.8 kilometre main tunnel to the exit and that he believed the shaft was also to serve as an exit.
However, he could not recall if the company had ever conducted a trial evacuation of all the miners using it.
As the final witness in the first of four parts of the inquiry, he accepted that the company was plagued by technical problems, prolonged delays and a frustrating level of staff turnover.
The mine boss did, however, reject claims that there was “an air of despondency” at the mine, and also defended the mine’s gas monitoring system.
Speaking exclusively to the Citizen in the wake of the latest revelations, Mrs Campbell said: ”That is the first phase of the inquiry now finished and we are very disappointed at some of the evidence that has been uncovered, in particular a one tunnel entry and an exit ladder which was never tried and tested by anyone.
“It seems to show, was the priority the safety of the men or the pressure to get the coal out?
“Our priority is to keep the fund raising going and keep awareness of the importance that we need Malcolm and his 28 colleagues out of the Pike River mine and put to rest. The families need closure and this seems never ending.”
Mrs Campbell said that the second phase of the inquiry is due to get underway on September 3.
She added:”This is to look at what happened on November 19 regarding the police operation and mines and rescue and how it was executed.
“We are not looking forward to this phase. We all need the truth to come out.
“However, no matter what happens it will never be the same for our family. It will never bring Malcolm back.”
Meanwhile, the family has paid tribute to everyone who has been assisting in the fund raising campaign which will help finance the recovery mission of the men’s bodies.
She concluded:“We would like to say a huge thanks to everyone who has been fund-raising and who have made donations.
“This has really touched us. Our family and friends have been our rocks who have listened and cried with us, their support has never wavered, bless you all.”