27 Jun 2019

Pike River: Police backed after emergence of key 'black box' data

9:04 am on 27 June 2019

The Pike River Recovery Agency CEO is supporting police in the face of criticism after the existence of crucial 'black box' data was confirmed.

Outside the 30m concrete seal at Pike River mine.

The mine was re-entered for the first time on 21 May, 2019. Twenty-nine workers were killed there in 2010. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

The families of the Pike River miners are demanding an independent investigation into the rescue and recovery operation after the existence of what's called the Scada data was revealed.

They're saying the police have denied for months the existence of the Scada data that could show what happened between the first and second explosion that killed 29 men.

One family member, Bernie Monk, said the Scada data contains all the essential readings from inside the mine, and will hold strong clues about whether any of the men survived the first blast on 19 November, 2010.

Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn told Morning Report that the Scada data had been in the background throughout but came to light under an Official Information Act request made to the agency by Dean Dunbar, who lost his son, Joseph, in the tragedy.

Asked why police didn't appear to have looked at it, Mr Gawn said that was for police to answer, however, their focus for the initial investigation was on the cause of the first explosion, which was the catalyst for everything that followed.

As the "black box' of the mine, he regarded it as key evidence. He has looked at it - it was a series of numbers on a spreadsheet and needed an expert to interpret it.

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Dave Gawn Photo: Supplied / Pike River Recovery Agency

"The system that was running at the time, is what was called an SQL system. It only had the capacity for about four gigabytes of storage and then it overwrote itself and that may explain some of the difficulty the police may be having in actually retrieving it.

"Because it only had that four gigabytes of storage one of the employees at the time decided he should download it onto his personal computer so that data wasn't lost. That occurred after the first explosion and before the second explosion."

Mr Gawn said he still had faith in the information that was available to the agency. "Evidence is evidence and I have faith in the New Zealand police and the job that they do and the investigation that they are undergoing at the moment which includes a review of everything they have done in the past...

"I can also empathise with the families and their perception of how that was handled in the first instance. But right now I can't interpret the data but I do have confidence in the process and the investigation that the police team are going through."

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