CEO's last day today

Peter Whittall, the face of the Pike River Coal mine disaster, will finish up as chief executive today.

Mr Whittall was kept on by the receivers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, but with the $80 million insurance claim settled and a mine sale imminent, his role has been declared surplus to requirements.

Facebook pages set up in support of him in the immediate wake of the November 19 tragedy that killed 29 men underground have recently gone quiet, and he has since been charged by the Department of Labour.

Receiver John Fisk yesterday said the company had 17 employees left.

"There were 156 when we took over, excluding the 16 [employees] who died. One hundred and fifteen were made redundant within a day or so."

Mr Fisk said a "number" of staff were needed leading up to the sale of the mine, but he could not say if all 17 would be kept on.

"We will try to enter a sale-and-purchase agreement before Christmas. Settlement will be next year."

Mr Whittall, an Australian, joined Pike River Coal Ltd in February 2005 as mine manager responsible for planning and developing the mine from the turning of the first sod. He reported to former general manager Gordon Ward.

In January 2010, he relocated from Greymouth to the Wellington head office and, in October 2010, was appointed chief executive after Mr Ward left.

In a statement through his lawyers, Mr Whittall said he had continued to seek to do his best for the company and his staff as permitted in extremely difficult circumstances.

"Having chosen not to take voluntary redundancy and leave the company or this country for other opportunities, Mr Whittall's loyalty to Pike and commitment to trying to determine what caused the tragic explosion on November 19, 2010, has been unwavering," his lawyer said.

Coal miners were renowned for their resolve and toughness, yet it was with "deep sadness" that Mr Whittall left Pike River.

Mr Whittall intends to remain in New Zealand to continue with the inquiries.


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