This would be about 8.20 p.m. so that by this time the light of the men inbye must have been precarious.
At this time there were 14 men including Pake and Muir in the working places on the inbye side of the No.3 Dook and it was apparent that they did not realise the danger until it was too late. Not one of them got out alive. The first warning that would have reached the men would have been fouled conditions in the air current as a result of the afterdamp, smoke and dust from the original explosions and the subsequent fires.
There had been some short circuiting of the ventilation after the explosion and the brattice that separated the intake and the return air had been displaced. By the time that they realised that there was a danger all three exits from the workings, the No.11 level No. 10 Level or Diesel Road and the Return Airway had become impassable because of deadly smoke and an atmosphere which contained a large proportion of carbon monoxide.
The first serious attempt to explore the workings on the inbye side where the 15 men were trapped was not made until about 8.35 p.m. At the time of the explosion there were no officials in the vicinity. The back-shift fireman, George Crombie was outbye at the Junction of McIntyre’s Dook with the No.10 Level on his way home while the afternoon overman, David Brown had gone to the surface for consultation and his meal. At about 8.15 p.m. Brown was in the office discussing pit business with the manager, Mr. J.B. McArthur, when a message was received by the from the winding engineman that ‘a doctor and ambulance were wanted for McGarty and that there had been an explosion.’ After telephoning for a doctor and an ambulance, the overman and the manager went down the pit with morphine ampoules at 8.20 p.m.
As they were going down the No.1, McIntyre’s Dook, they were told by one of the outgoing men that an explosion had occurred some where in the region of James
Todd’s place, that a stretcher party was bringing out McGarty and that all the other men in the stooping section were safe but they had no information about those in the inside dook section. Brown, the overman handed the morphine over to the manager and went quickly inbye towards the No.3 Dook. When he got as far as the heading on the outbye side of the No.2 Dook, they encountered smoke coming up from it and still more smoke coming from the No.2 Dook itself. It was not sufficiently dense to prevent Brown and Crombie from going further along the No.10 Level. They managed to get almost to the top of the No.3 Dook. In passing the junction of the heading between Nos.2 and 3 Dooks, they encountered still more smoke coming up this heading. At this time they were not affected by the heat but, because of the smoke, they had to withdraw to a point just outbye of No.2 dookhead as they said, ‘for a breather’. The waited a few minutes and Brown made another attempt to go inbye alone. He actually got into the No.3 dookhead where he shouted but there was no answer. He did not see any signs of men or lights and he was forced to withdraw.
On his way out he met Crombie who said he had been trying to improve the ventilation by partially opening some brattice screens but this was of no avail. The atmospheric conditions were getting worse all the time due to the fires spreading, the extent and seriousness of which was not realised at the time. Brown fully realised the seriousness of the position regarding the trapped men and immediately sent word to the manager who was dealing with the fires in the stoop sections asking for all possible assistance and telling him that rescue work could not continue with out rescue teams wearing self contained breathing apparatus. He then set out to discover for himself where the smoke was coming from.
There were no signs of fire when the stretcher party remover McGarty from the 14 Level Face but very soon after small fires were discovered in No.14 Level and also at the waste at the edge in the split off No.15 Level. At the time these fires seemed relatively unimportant and confined to timber burning on the floor. The manager detailed men to fight these fires with under-ground fire fighting equipment which consisted of sand boxes placed in the level and portable fire extinguishers from the motor rooms and various other locations in the vicinity. Small as the fires were, the men could not put them outbye only keep them in check.
It was obvious that the small fires could not account for the dense volumes of smoke and fumes that were discovered on reaching the No.11 Level just outbye of the No.3 inside Dook. Later another small fire was discovered at the edge of the waste in No.13 Level and a much larger fire in the heading on the inbye side of No.2 Dook. The manager quickly realised the gravity of the situation and realised he needed addition fire fighting resources and trained mines rescue brigades. He satisfied himself that all the fire fighting resources of the colliery were in operation and everything possible was being done in the circumstances, he went to the surface.