The Pike River Mine Disaster – Tony Forster
Tony’s career took him from literally the coalface in Scotland to heading up the Mines Inspectorate in Wales and beyond to various consultancy roles abroad and becoming The Chief Inspector for Mines in Australia.
His talk today focused on his ten year involvement supporting the relatives of the 29 miners who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine disaster in 2010 in New Zealand. The saga has had many twists and turns in how the efforts to establish what really happened have been thwarted from the highest political levels through to missing items of evidence and a generally totally inadequate health and safety regime.
Two key aspects have been, and still are, to access the remains of a ventilation pump where the initial explosion apparently occurred [there were 3 subsequent ones too probably related to methane] and beyond that to recover the bodies of the miners. Extensive work got to within about 50 metres of both before being halted.
From a geological point of view Tony highlighted how the stress features in a mine can be handled and the extra strength that can be achieved by bolting up into strong sandstone layers if available as in this case. He also explained the risks of spontaneous combustion which probably explained the series of later explosions in Pike River.
To learn what happened and see things through the eyes of an engineer with a key role to play in the investigations was quite fascinating, though obviously with a fairly traumatic element too.