Cut pipes linked to deadly blast

Coro­nial in­quest wraps up

Campaspe News - - NEWS - By RUSTY WOODGER

THE gas leak which caused a deadly ex­plo­sion at Rochester Ho­tel likely came from com­pres­sor pipes which had been cut, an in­quest has heard.

Barry Purtell, 34, and David Lobb, 52, were killed while at­tempt­ing to re­move a re­frig­er­a­tion unit in the cel­lar of the ho­tel on June 15, 2014.

Ar­son chemist Justyn Bren­nan, who in­ves­ti­gated the ex­plo­sion, told Bendigo Coroner’s Court on Wed­nes­day the most likely source of the flammable gas was at the point where com­pres­sor wiring had been re­moved, with cuts to the cop­per pip­ing ‘‘ap­pear­ing to be rel­a­tively new’’.

His tes­ti­mony came days af­ter Work­Safe’s Peter Vi­tali told the court the com­pres­sor unit should not have been sta­tioned in the con­fined space of a cel­lar.

‘‘If you must have the com­pres­sor in there, you at least need gas sen­sors and ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems,’’ Mr Vi­tali said.

The court had ear­lier been told the most likely source of ig­ni­tion was a cig­a­rette lighter found on the ground of the cel­lar fol­low­ing the ex­plo­sion.

Mr Bren­nan said in­ves­ti­ga­tors also found a par­tially burnt cig­a­rette near the lighter, along with fur­ther cig­a­rette butts po­si­tioned me­tres away from where the ex­plo­sion is be­lieved to have oc­curred.

The court had pre­vi­ously heard both Mr Purtell and Mr Lobb were smok­ers.

At Mon­day’s open­ing of the in­quest, coroner’s as­sis­tant Lead­ing Se­nior Con­sta­ble An­drea Hib­bins read out the cir­cum­stances of the deaths.

She de­tailed how Mr Purtell re-gassed the re­frig­er­a­tion unit in Novem­ber 2013 with HyChill gas, which is de­signed for ve­hi­cle air­con­di­tion­ers and which con­tained flammable com­po­nents.

A sep­a­rate re­frig­er­ant, SP34E, was added to the sys­tem by a re­frig­er­a­tion me­chanic dur­ing main­te­nance in June 2012.

Sev­eral ex­perts told the court SP34E also con­tained flammable com­po­nents, but is listed as non- flammable un­der the Dan­ger­ous Goods Act.

Mr Bren­nan said HyChill was more flammable as it con­tained propane.

The coro­nial in­quest fin­ished on Wed­nes­day and ex­plored a range of is­sues in­clud­ing the de­ceased men’s lack of qual­i­fi­ca­tions to re­move the com­pres­sor, safety haz­ard sig­nage, the la­belling of re­frig­er­ant prod­ucts, li­cens­ing and ed­u­ca­tion within the in­dus­try.

Coroner Paresa Spanos said her find­ings were not ex­pected un­til the end of March.

‘‘We want to en­sure some­thing like this doesn’t hap­pen again,’’ she said.

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