Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pike River Requiem

Its a cool, crisp dawn with a strong New Zealand sun emerging to dominate an intense blue sky.

And it's a dawn that will not be shared by twenty nine of my fellow countrymen.  They have been interred in a West Coast coal mine this past week, only to be confirmed as dead late yesterday when a second gas explosion ripped through the Pike River mine.

The West Coasters of this country are no strangers to such tragedies, and mining, upon which much of their economy relies, is centred on high quality, gaseous coal seams.  It's a lucrative but dangerous occupation.

While there have been some recriminations that the police were over cautious in not allowing a rescue operation early on, most would regard these statements as ill founded.

The advice of old miners is that the best time to effect a rescue is straight after a blast, as the gasses have been dispersed.

This could well be true, but testing of the gas content of the mine showed that the level remained extreme and the risks of a rescue were just too high.

Whatever the truth about the rescue approach the incident has reached a terrible conclusion.  New Zealand is a small country and we share the mining families grief.

Mention must be made of Peter Whittall, the CEO of the mine and an Australian who earned a very rare round of applause from the assembled media, at the end of a gruelling press conference in which he announced the second deadly explosion.

His face grew more noticeably haggard by the day and yet he never waivered from the job he had to do, communicating with the families and the media.  He has earned the enormous respect in this country.

The tragedy that has unfolded over the week has has etched itself into the psyche of New Zealanders and today flags will be flown at half mast throughout the nation.
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