FAULTY coalmine equipment, or personal error, may have led to a Singleton truck driver being crushed when 10 tonnes of rock and soil were dumped on his rig.
These options were put forward during a coronial inquest into the death of David “Blocky” Oldknow, 59, at Xstrata’s Ravensworth underground pit at about 2.20am on February 18, 2009.
But deputy state coroner Scott Mitchell was “unable to say” what caused the tragedy.
Mr Mitchell brought down an open finding in an 18-page report made public on Friday.
He made no recommendations because work practices, and the type of trucks operating under the mine’s “chitter” bin, had fundamentally changed since the accident.
At the conclusion of evidence, a statement by Mr Oldknow’s widow, Gail, was handed to Mr Mitchell.
It expressed the horror and desolation she and her daughter Lisa had experienced since being woken late at night to be told her husband of 29 years had been killed.
She described her life as having unravelled.
Mr Oldknow was a hard working and well-known businessman who secured their future, was semi-retired and enjoyed driving trucks more as a hobby, Mrs Oldknow wrote.
The couple had planned a happy retirement that included caravaning throughout Australia.
Truck drivers who gave evidence were high in their praise for Mr Oldknow.
Mr Mitchell expressed his deepest sympathy to Mrs Oldknow and Lisa.
The inquest was told that Mr Oldknow drove a road-registered truck that was used to cart reject rock and soil from an overhead chitter bin to a dumpsite three kilometres away.
On the night in question about 5.4 tonnes was dropped onto the fibreglass cab of his truck and about 4.4 tonnes landed in the truck tipper.
There were no witnesses to the accident about eight hours into the 12-hour shift.
Extensive investigations afterwards found Mr Oldknow had done the job for several years, was free of alcohol and drugs and there was no suggestion that fatigue or his diabetes medication played any part in his death.
Mr Oldknow’s prime mover and trailer had no mechanical, or other, defect.
Mr Oldknow, and other truck drivers, used to drive their vehicles along a race, passing a set of traffic lights, cut three infra-red beams with their rig and use various paint marks on the road and walls to line up their tipper or trailer beneath the bin’s hatch.
Ten tonne loads were dropped when drivers pressed a button on a radio-transmitter remote control that they kept in their cabs.
After Mr Oldknow’s death the chitter loading equipment, including individual sensors and transmitters, was checked and found to be in good order and unlikely to have been compromised by dust or dirt.
The inquest was told that there had been “occasional unplanned movements of chitter” dropping from the bin and one assertion that a driver would be paid for some “ghost shifts” to cover damage to his truck from falling rock.
This was denied by the person who was alleged to have made the hush money offer.
It was also suggested that remote controls in other trucks could trigger the bin release.
Mining officials checked the equipment and found nothing wrong.
Officials concluded that at least one unintended drop resulted from a driver’s mistaken use of the remote control.
Mr Mitchell noted “sad irony” in the fact that shortly before Mr Oldknow’s death mining industry officials had reached agreement to stop using road registered trucks to move chitter at Ravensworth and reintroduce larger trucks fitted with falling object and roll over protection systems.
He concluded by saying these larger trucks were now exclusively used to move chitter, drivers reversed into position and no-one drove under the chitter bin hatch.