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Friday, June 16, 2006

Mark Kearney died in Volcanic Eruption

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WORKPLACE ACCIDENT: Stepping up volcanic monitoring exposed Mark Kearney 'to the risk of an eruption'.

DOC man sent to his death

17 June 2006

Conservation worker Mark Kearney died in a volcanic eruption after field monitoring of Raoul Island's crater was stepped up because of seismic activity.
Reports from crown institute GNS Science and the Conservation Department reveal that GNS told DOC there was "no major eruption threat". It asked Raoul Island staff to increase volcanic monitoring from weekly to daily visits.
"This exposed Mark Kearney to the risk of an eruption, which was highly likely to be the cause of his death," DOC's investigation report says.
The department described the death as "a workplace accident".
Family members said yesterday that they did not want to point the finger at anyone. The Labour Department report, not yet made public, would be the key one.
Mr Kearney, 33, disappeared during the short eruption in the Green Lake area of the remote island in the Kermadecs on Friday, March 17. He was collecting lake level and temperature data for volcanic monitoring.
The task was usually done on a Wednesday. He was doing it on Friday because monitoring had been increased following the seismic activity.
Five co-workers were later evacuated and have since returned to the island. Mr Kearney's body has not been found.
Auckland University vulcanology professor Colin Wilson told the DOC investigators that GNS should have taken a more conservative approach and done monitoring from a distance. The institute should also have raised the volcano's alert level.
But GNS' own review says the advice given to DOC at the time was sound, based on declining seismic activity and the island's history.
Quake swarms had been recorded six times in the past, but with no eruptions. Changes to the crater lake area that were observed before the last eruption, in 1964, had not happened before the March eruption.
More frequent volcanic measuring was justified "given the need for early information to effect any evacuation".
DOC's investigation found Mr Kearney's death was not preventable "as long as the crater area was a place of work". Its report clears DOC staff and systems of any blame.
Evacuation procedures were effective and staff and managers were aware of the risk of volcanic eruption and quakes. The future of volcanic monitoring by staff on Raoul needed to be considered, however, and a risk assessment should be done.
It makes 12 recommendations but notes that none was likely to have prevented Mr Kearney's death, "with the possible exception of remote telemetry (monitoring)".
Professor Wilson and another scientist believe remote monitoring of the crater area is a practical option, it says.
The GNS report, reviewed by three American experts, says some remote monitoring could be possible but the benefits would have to be weighed against costs and technical challenges.
Mr Kearney's father, Ray, said he would wait for the Labour Department report and the inquest before commenting at length.
The DOC and GNS reports were very comprehensive. "I'm not sure they tell the whole story. There's too much ahead of us."
Mark's uncle, Trevor Kearney, said the reports had given the family some closure and they did not "feel any ill-will to anybody".
"It was the wrong decision but that's only in hindsight. I think they made the decision that they thought was right."
The Labour Department's workplace health and safety investigation report is due within three months.
For DOC, spokesman Sean Goddard said an exclusion zone had been put round the crater lake area till "an independent risk assessment of staff exposure to volcanic hazards is undertaken".

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1 comment:

  1. Only stupid people would step up a silly monitoring program when volcanic activity had increased. The monitoring program was started after the 65 eruption, it involved a weekly temperature reading of green lake. 20 years later they were still doing despite a 24 hour seismograph machine showing just what was happening. The department of conservation was and is responsible for the death of Kearney, I reconised the danger when there in 83 and 84 and only once went in there. The job was a waste of time, stupid and dangerous and any officer in charge worth the title should have put a stop to the practice. They keep on going because it has always been done that way and don't have the brains to thin k for them selves.


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