Inquest into mine death hears of tipping procedure

MORE than eight hours into his 12-hour shift, experienced truck driver David Oldknow had already done 13 trips carting tonnes of coal refuse from a large bin on a Hunter mine to a dump site when he began to go through the procedures to get his next 30-tonne load.

But how and why 10 tonnes of ‘chitter’ fell onto the cabin of Mr Oldknow’s Kenworth, crushing him to death, is at the centre of coronial proceedings that began yesterday in front of Deputy State Coroner Scott Mitchell at Glebe Coroners Court.

Mr Oldknow, 59, was dead by the time other truck drivers got to his cabin near the large ‘‘reject bin’’ on the Xstrata-owned Ravensworth underground coalmine in the early hours of February 18, 2009.

The Singleton owner-operator was one of four truck and trailer contractors who were on 20-minute cycles driving their rigs under a large bin and in line with paint markings on the floor, using a remote control to open the hatch, allowing 10 tonnes of chitter to drop in about two seconds.

They would take three loads, one in the back of the truck and two in the dog trailer, before dumping it several kilometres away.

The inquest heard how the drivers had to pass safety traffic lights, which allowed them to proceed under the hydraulic doors, and trip three motion sensors before the remote control could be pressed to start the dumping.

But counsel assisting the coroner Ben Clark told the inquest that something had occurred to allow the release of the chitter on the truck’s fibreglass cabin before the truck was in place, crushing Mr Oldknow.

Mr Clark said one possible scenario could be that Mr Oldknow had entered under the bin and driven around some more chitter dropping from the bin before reversing his truck and trailer under the bin.

Another scenario could be that the motion sensors used to detect the truck’s position were covered in dirt, causing the sensor to mistakenly detect a truck had cut the sensor ray.

There were no witnesses to the incident, and Mr Oldknow’s truck was found away from the bin and in gear, although it was unclear whether the inundation of chitter into the cabin could have knocked the truck into gear.

The inquest heard Mr Oldknow had several medical conditions, including insulin dependent diabetes, but that other drivers had seen him administer insulin and eat before his death. The inquest continues today.

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