Something has been bothering me; when I read Kevin Hague’s blog post about how an image of a body and the open self-rescuer taken before the second explosion was suppressed I thought that there would be an uproar when the press and the public found out that the authorities knew that some of the 29 miners had survived the initial explosion and had attempted to get at the self-rescuers and that one of the miners lay injured or dying in view of the camera, and that this information had been kept from the families and the public.
But no. No reaction. No outrage. Nothing.
So I have put together a very brief and highly incomplete timeline of the events – to have it clear in my mind as much as anything – so please read the following with that caveat in mind.
3:44 pm 19 November 2010 Mine explosion: Delay in calling the emergency services by 50 mins
8.04pm: Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee said he intends to travel to the West Coast tonight with Kate Wilkinson, the Minister of Labour and Conservation. He said the Prime Minister is being kept informed about events as they unfold.
Brownlee said: “Details of the incident are sketchy at this stage. The Government stands ready to offer whatever help and resources are required. Various agencies, including Police, Fire, Ambulance and hospitals, are already involved. The West Coast mine rescue team has been activated.” (Source: TVNZ)
20th Nov: Rescuers do not go into mine due to bad weather and uncertainty about the state of the atmosphere.
Rescuers are having trouble determining how dangerous the gas in the Piker River Coal mine is.
Rain and overcast weather today prevented a helicopter flying to a ventilation shaft to get an air sample so rescuers can decide if it is safe to into the mine. (Source: TVNZ)
21st Nov: Toxic gas levels detected, and fluctuating, preventing rescue. Family members allowed to see mine and express growing frustration. Rescue team start to drill air sample hole into mine.
22nd Nov: Names of the 29 miners are released. In the afternoon the police admit for the first time that there may be fatalities but remain optimistic. Tests show heating underground and it is deemed too dangerous to mount rescue.
23rd Nov: Army robot sent into mine but fails after 2 hours. Toxic gases still detected preventing rescuers entering mine. Pike River Coal chairman John Dow dismisses reports they were using risky mining techniques. Police say that the outlook is starting to look bleak.
24th Nov : Picture showing body and open box was recorded and suppressed – before the second explosion. This picture only came to light by unoffical means. The question here is who saw that image and why was it suppressed.
You may remember that at the time of the disaster, Mr. Brownlee and Mr. Key were apparently very closely involved. It is inconceivable that they were not told about the opened self-rescuer box, which means that they were almost certainly party to covering this up, and deceiving the families and the public. – Kevin Hague
2:37 PM 24th Nov: The second explosion. This corresponded roughly with the time that all the authorities started assuring the public that everybody had died in the first explosion. Who knew this was not true?
December: Mr White (Pike River general manager) indicated that … he was instructed to refer to a ‘stabilisation’ operation at the mine and not to use the word ‘recovery’. Talking about recovery of the human remains was “politically unacceptable” he had been told. It would raise expectations and cost too much. He had budgeted that recovery could occur with a budget of $10 million. He had been given a budget of $5 million.
“When this evidence was given the talk both inside the Courtoom and then outside during the break was of the many occasions on which Mr. Key gave the families a sweeping assurance that no effort would be spared to recover the dead men. ” – Kevin Hague
March: This is a question to the PM in the House – remember that Mr. White had been told in December to stop talking about the recovery as it would “cost too much”;
NZ Parliament: [Volume:670;Page:17124]
7. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Can he assure the families of those killed in the Pike River mine disaster that Government funding will be available for the recovery of bodies, given the mine is now in the receivers’ hands?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: As the Government has said many times, the key issue in deciding whether the recovery of the bodies could take place is the safety and stability of the mine. Money has not been an issue.
What is going on here? Who is telling the truth? I would like to know.