Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pike River Coal Mine: On The Front Line

The fate of "The Pike 29" has gripped NZ. Every development was instantly beamed around the world. And every day, the man in front of the cameras was Pike River Coal boss Peter Whittall.
Peter Whittall, the man in the spotlightSome of the hard questions he's faced would goad a lesser man to anger. Yet Whittall never raised his voice, never showed any emotion on his face other than concern for his missing team. His inner strength must have been as tough as the conditions his miners work in. The only sign of strain was the dark bags under his eyes - and the occasional well-hidden tear when he was caught in an unguarded moment. I doubt he slept much at all since this tragedy began last Friday...
In contrast, shoulder-to-shoulder at the press conferences was Superintendent Gary Knowles, in charge of the rescue operation. He too presented a professional - if more clinical - appearance.
However Peter Whittall personally knew the conditions, the risks and every one of those trapped miners. He's "walked the walk" through 30 years' experience in the coal business. He only stepped into the CEO role a month or so ago, and still has coaldust in his pores.
The pressure on him over this week must have been immense: not just desperately hoping he could get his men out, but also knowing full well that he will inevitably find himself in the heat at any post-disaster inquiry. Pike River's website says Whittall was GM Mines before his appointment as CEO and in this role was "...responsible for all operational aspects of the business including mine design and development, and the essential areas of safety and environment".
The pressure of being the sole public face of the company will surely have put a physical and psychological effect on Peter Whittall. So spare a thought for him too, when you think of the lost "Pike 29" tonight...
(...thanks to Fran O'Sullivan/NZHerald)
PS: A TVNZ video clip last night paid tribute to his strength.
PS: 25 Nov.2010 - Flags flew at half-mast across NZ, as the Prime minister called today a national day of mourning for "The Pike 29".

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