4 Dec 2013

Mine safety breaches uncovered at drowning inquest

3:09 pm on 4 December 2013

An inquest has been told there were numerous safety breaches at a West Coast gold mine where a nine-year-old boy died after his father's four-wheel-drive rolled into a settling pond.

The evidence was heard in Greymouth at the inquest into the drowning of Tayne Bowes in 2012.

Mines inspector with the High Hazards Unit David Bellett read out a list of health and safety breaches at the Hokitika area mine which contributed to the tragedy, including bringing children on to the worksite.

He said the main contributing factor was the lack of an earth barrier at the end of the access road that would have prevented Tayne Bowes' father, Mark Bowes from over-shooting the road and careening down a steep bank into the settling pond.

Mine manager Geoffrey Jacobs began his evidence by apologising to Mr Bowes and his wife Katrina.

Mr Jacobs said earth barriers had been built since the accident and further training undertaken to improve safety.

But he said having children at the mine was simply part of the culture of mining on the West Coast.

The inquest heard criticism of the police response from Tayne Bowes' grandfather, Murray Bowes, who said the operation was treated as a body recovery rather than a rescue.

Tayne Bowes' younger sister Keira, aged eight at the time, was pulled alive from the partially submerged Toyota Hilux after two hours in freezing cold water.

Her rescuer, senior sergeant Allyson Ealam, said neither she nor her colleague sergeant Russell Glue expected the children would still be alive.

Ms Ealam said it was bittersweet being able to save Keira but not her brother.

As well as safety breaches at the mine, evidence was heard there was a fault with the four-wheel drive's brakes and that Mr Bowes' driving may have been affected by a brain tumour which was discovered after the accident.

Mr Bowes provided a breath alcohol test afterwards that indicated he had been drinking the equivalent of four-and-a-half to eight stubbies of beer.

However, he was not judged to be over the legal limit and police say alcohol was not a factor in the accident.

Coroner Richard McElrea reserved his findings.