Cut pipes linked to deadly blast
Coronial inquest wraps up
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.