The shift supervisor on the morning of a fatal mud rush at Tasmania’s Mount Lyell copper mine has told an inquest he and the victim had inspected the area minutes before the incident, and that it “looked settled”.
David Woolley was giving evidence at the inquest into the death of Michael ‘Digger’ Welsh, who died after a sudden inundation of mud 600 metres underground at Copper Mines of Tasmania (CMT) in Queenstown in 2014.
The shift before Mr Welsh’s had raised concerns about “bulging” of the wall, resulting in the risk rating being elevated from low to medium.
Mr Woolley said he had asked Mr Welsh to go down and inspect the area, or stope, with him because he was an experienced bogger driver.
“He was very experienced at reading the stopes,” he said.
David Woolley said both he and Mr Welsh thought the medium risk rating was too high. (ABC News)
Mr Woolley said both he and Mr Welsh had thought the medium risk rating too high based on what they saw during their own inspection.
“It was firm, it looked settled,” Mr Woolley told the inquest.
Less than 20 minutes after the inspection 55-year-old Mr Welsh was killed by a sudden inundation of mud.
Mr Woolley told the inquest that he had suggested Mr Welsh start work on building a table top area that would have allowed planned blasting to take place.
He said Mr Welsh agreed and had told him he would he would give him a call after he had done the work so they could reassess the safety of the area.
The inquest heard that Mr Welsh had radioed about seven minutes later that he was going to give it “a few more touches and she should be pretty right”.
‘I can’t find Digger’
About 20 minutes after the two had inspected the area, the fatal mud rush occurred.
The inquest heard details of the first radio call raising the alarm.
The call came over the emergency channel: “Emergency, emergency. There’s been a mud rush and I can’t find Digger.”
The inquest has previously heard first responders had to wade through thick, hot mud about 1 metre deep to find Mr Welsh.
He was lying face down and unresponsive.
Mr Woolley said as an experienced bogger driver, if Mr Welsh had any concerns about safety he had the authorisation to stop work.
“An experienced operator can tell an abnormality that is occurring during the task, and of course he’d cease operations immediately if there was any sign of anything wrong,” he said.
The inquest also heard from Leigh Johnstone, who was the supervisor on the previous shift when the risk level was elevated from low to medium due to concerns over a moist and bulging wall.
He told the inquest a foreman had called him “soft” and said his “crew was walking all over him”.
“I said I didn’t care, I’m the one who’s got to bring them out at the end of the day,” Mr Johnston said.
Coroner Simon Cooper is also examining the deaths of fellow Queenstown miners Craig Gleeson, 45, and Alistair Lucas, 25, who died at the mine 39 days earlier when the wood platform they were working on collapsed.
Last week, Sandra Welsh told the court it was painful to relive her husband’s death.
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