The explosion occurred during the afternoon shift on Tuesday 19th November. The men on that shift descended between 2.30 and 3 p.m. Thirty four went to work in the Six Feet and No.2 Thirty Inch District with James Brady as deputy, twenty nine to the No.1 Thirty Inch District with David Casagranda as deputy and nine to the Nine Feet District where Hugh Parker was the deputy. James Marshall, Junior was the acting overman and was in charge of the whole colliery below ground.
Work in the Six feet Section proceeded normally until about 7.30 p.m. when the explosion occurred killing three men who had been working in the Belt Level and all 14 men who were in the workings to the south of the level.
At the time the deputy Brady was with Scott Davidson, an engine driver, at the over-rope haulage engine in the West Mine haulage road. Deputy Parker was adjusting a ventilation door about 50 yards inbye from the Nine Feet telephone. R. McLaren, the engine driver, was at his engine at the top of the No.2 Dook near the junction with the Pony Level and A. Smith, rope changer, was at the junction. W. Queen, conveyor switch attendant and R. Hannah, a collier, were at the Stooping Section conveyor. Henry Casagranda and J. Cook, both colliers, and W. Bradford, shotfirer from the Nine Feet District, were in the Stooping Section and J. Bennie, pony driver was in the Six Feet Bench.
Brady and Parker both realised that something serious had happened and made their way to the Six Feet Bench. Near the Bench, Brady who was with Scott Davidson and two others, found Bennie and his pony lost in fumes and dust. Davidson took the lad through the dust and fumes to the stable and then went to look for his cousin George Davidson, who worked in the top of Connor’s Dook. At the Bench, Parker attended to two injured men, A. Smith and McLaren, who had come from the top of the No.2 Dook. He assured himself that rescue arrangements had been set in motion and gave instructions for his men in the Nine Feet District to be withdrawn. He then went into the intake airway and blocked off the main intake to the Nine Feet and the No.2 Thirty Inch Sections at the overcast over the Pony Level so as to restrict the flow of air into those sections and increase the amount going into the Six Feet Section. He also arranged for the Six Feet Regulator to be knocked down.
Meanwhile, Brady, accompanied by one workman, tried to enter the section by the intake airway but was stopped by dust and fumes about 30 feet below the junction at the innermost end of the Pony Level and had to return. In the Stooping Section, Henry Casagranda thought there had been an explosion and so with Bradford and Cook, he joined Queen and Hannah in the Belt Level. Queen, was elderly and Cook and Hannah took him towards fresh air while Bradford and Casagranda went along the Level to try to reach the men working near the loading point. They were beaten back by fumes and went along the return airway to the Six Feet Bench.
The party at the Bench now consisted of Parker, Bradford, Casagranda and Cook. Bradford got in touch with the surface and was instructed to remain at the Nine Feet telephone. The others went to look for Brady and met him near the inbye end of the Pony Level where they all made their way to the Companion Dook. They were stopped by fumes about 150 feet from the top and returned to the end of the Level. Brady and Casagranda made another attempt to get into the affected area by going along the Pony Level into No. 2 Dook but again had to retreat. Brady and others did manager to get down the No.3 Dook and through the Belt Level and through to the No.2 Dook where they saw the bodies of J. Dalziel and A. Findaly. These two bodies had earlier been discovered by Cook who had been joined by Joe Casagranda, a repairer who was working near the pit bottom and had gone inbye to give help. Brady retraced his steps to the Six Feet regulator where he met the rescue brigade men and did what he could to help them.
James Marshall, Junior, the acting overman, was in the East Mine at the time of the explosion. He was told about it by telephone at the pit bottom and arranged for emergency calls to be made to the surface. Realizing that the men in the No.1 Thirty Inch Section would be in danger since that section was ventilated from the return air from the Six Feet Section, he made his way there and told the deputy, David Casagranda, brother of Henry and Joe, to withdraw his men. He then attempted to reach George Davidson at the top of Connor’s Dook but collapsed into unconsciousness about half way down the dook. He was later rescued by men with breathing apparatus and taken to the pit bottom where, with several others, he was treated by Dr. Weir of Muirkirk. Meanwhile, David and Joe Casagranda had gone inbye to see what they could do, John Dempster, shotfirer in the No. 1 Thirty Inch District, tried to help J. Frew and T. Makin, two workmen from the district, through the fumes in the main return airway to the pit bottom. They had travelled only 150 yards when Frew collapsed. Dempster tried unsuccessfully to revive him then, and in spite of being greatly distressed himself, he first dragged and then carried and finally threw him into a tub and pushed him as far as the airlock where he too collapsed. Makin had also collapsed but all three were rescued by willing helpers.
While all this was going on underground, people at the surface had not been idle. The first indication of a serious accident having occurred was received at the surface at 7.50 p.m. Mr. Harley, the acting manager and a doctor and ambulance from Muirkirk were promptly summoned and the Rescue Station at Kilmarnock was asked to stand by for instructions. At 8.30 p.m., Mr. Dock, the Superintendent received a call from Dempster, the day shift overman. He immediately sent a rescue van with the Assistant Superintendent, Mr. Morran, and asked Dempster to call out the Kames Brigade. He also arranged with the Superintendent of the Auchinleck Rescue Station to call out the Highhouse Colliery Brigade and Coatbridge Rescue Station to send two brigades.
Morran arrived at the mine at 9.40 p.m. and with two members of the Kames Brigade descended at 9.45 p.m. Others followed and a fresh air base was established in the No. 3 Dook just above it’s junction with the Belt Level Througher, about two miles from the shaft at 11.05 p.m. At 11.15 p.m., a brigade of three men, W. Shaw and R M. Boland of Kames Colliery and three men from the Coatbridge Rescue Station were sent into the affected area. They returned at midnight and reported that they had found 16 bodies but no signs of life. Steps were taken to restore the ventilation and by 3.00 a.m. it was possible to undertake a more thorough inspection.
This was done by a party consisting of Mr. P. Milligan, Deputy Area Production Manager (Operations),
Mr. F.H. Baker, H.M. District Inspector, Mr. R.J. Evans, H.M. Inspector and at a later stage, Mr. W. Widdas, H.M. Divisional Inspector. Except for the North West extension of Casagranda’s Level where the rescue team had found the bodies of two men, the inspection was made without apparatus. Beside one of these men lay a box of matches. All 17 bodies were located and brought to the surface at 1.20 p.m. on the 20th November and taken to Ballochmyle Hospital.
Those who lost their lives were:-
- Thomas Burnside aged 58 years, ripper.
- Thomas Casey aged 18 years, bencher.
- Alexander Brown Crawford aged 37 years, shotfirer.
- John Dalziel aged 33 years, repairer.
- Timothy Dillon aged 44 years, mechanical assistance man.
- Andrew McGarry Findlay aged 20 years, loaderman.
- Ronald Carruthers Grant aged 20 years, loaderman.
- William Aird Hendry aged 30 years, loaderman.
- Robert John Stark Lowe aged 53 years, collier.
- James Boston Marshall aged 69 years, repairer.
- Donald Morrison McGarry aged 18 years, bencher.
- William McKay aged 43 years, collier.
- John McKean aged 53 years, repairers.
- James Samson aged 37 years, collier.
- Robert Watson Parker Smith aged 33 years, loaderman.
- William Davidson Smith aged 47 years, ripper.
- John Brown Walker aged 37 years, collier.
The inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the explosion at the Kames Colliery, Ayrshire, on the 19th November 1957, was held by Sir Harold Roberts, C.B.E., M.C., B.Sc. in the Council Chamber of the County Buildings, Ayr from the 5th to 11th February 1958. All interested parties were represented and the report was presented to The Right Honourable Lord Mills, K.B.E., Minister of Power on the 12th June 1958.
It was found that there were burns on the four bodies found near the junction between No.2 Dook between Wylie’s Level and Wylie’s Fan Crosscut and on the two found in the north west extension of Casagranda’s Level. None of the other bodies were burned.
A detailed investigation of the explosion area was made and it was accepted by all parties that the blast came from the foot to the top of No.2 Dook. The only source of firedamp discovered after the disaster was in the rise heading at the foot of the No. 2 Dook. Dust samples were taken and all the electrical apparatus and lamps from the affected area was examined at the safety in Mines Research Establishment but no defect likely to have caused the explosion was found.
It was thought that the firedamp originated somewhere south of Wylie’s Fan Cross cut and that the firedamp was ignited by a match but there was a divergence of views about the cause and the spread of the explosion and the inspector came to the conclusion that the two men who were found in part of Casagranda’s Level went into the heading to look at the job and in a naked light mine, it was natural for them to light a match to smoke while they considered the job. This was the cause of the explosion.
The Inspector concluded that:-
“Kames had always been free from firedamp and the workings were thought to be so damp that the coal dust could not be raised as an explosive cloud. Nobody had complained about the possibility of an explosion and the workmen were allowed to smoke.
The inescapable conclusion to be derived from this disaster is that no coal mine can be regarded as immune from danger of an explosion. I therefore recommend that the National Coal Board should, as a matter of policy, forthwith prohibit below ground presence of naked lights in any form and by 31st December 1960 make all their mines safety lamp mines in every sense. Such a step to be fully effective, would need the co-operation of the workmen, but I am confident that the National Union of Mineworkers would give their full support.
I also recommend that the phrase ‘dust ... which can be raised in the air’ in the Regulations 1956 must be given a more liberal interpretation. Following from that the managers must ensure full compliance with the requirements of the Act and Regulations about dust suppression and the use of incombustible dust and stone dust barriers.”
The Inspector referred to the actions of the people who were in comparative safety when the explosion occurred yet risked their lives to do what they could to help their workmates. He said:-
“to them, and to others who took an active part but are not mentioned, I offer my
most sincere admiration and thanks.”