Burnley, Lancashire. Explosion 22nd March 1962 At 9.47 a.m.
Two shotfirers, Mr. R. Latham and Mr. R. Hutchinson started at normal shift time and a third shotfirer Mr. R. Ridge came on an intermediate shift starting after midnight.
Each fired forty shots distributed between the intake gate stable and the main face line.
No shots were fired in the return gate stable although nine holes had already been drilled there. None of the shotfirers found any firedamp during the shift. In addition to the shots in the coal the deputy himself fired a few in the return gate ripping.
To facilitate packing the natural from the return gate ripping Mr. G. Rimaldi, who was in charge of the rippers took down brattice sheet which had been erected to deflect the air into the return gate stable. This sheet was not re-erected because Rimaldi and his team failed to complete the building of the pack. The unpacked ripping debris was retained in the highly inclined gate behind a wooden barrier about three feet high. It is worthy of note that Rimaldi confirmed the deputy's statement that there were three or four tubs at the head of the return gate.
At about 10.15 p.m. Mr. J. Feltell, an attendant, started up the booster fan and ran it ran about and hour. This had no significance in relation to the ventilation for the district, it was part of the care and maintenance routine of the fan. Mr. Jackson left the return end of the face just after 7 a.m. and at about 7.30 a.m. he met Mr. J. Halstead, one of the incoming day shotfirers, at the junction of the No.2 return with the No.1 return. He told Mr. Halstead about the holes which were drilled and ready for firing in the return gate stable. At the deputies' Meeting Station at the cutback, Mr. Jackson discussed the condition of the district with Mr. S. Bullen the coming day shift deputy.
The workmen of the day shift reached the face about 8 a.m. on the 22nd, March, some by the return and others by the intake gate. With one exception, none of those who went on to the face from the return gate recalled seeing a brattice sheet in the position near the return gate stable. In addition to the deputy in charge of the district there were two shotfirers on the face, Mr. J. Halstead at the return end and Mr. K. Clarkson at the intake end, nineteen fillers with Mr. J. Murray as captain, two conveyor attendants Mr. T. Isherwood at the return end and Mr. P. Ince at the intake end, a conveyor maintenance man, Mr. J. Allen and a mechanic Mr. G. Hartley. In the intake gate were Mr. J. Pollard, Mr. W. Bradshaw and Mr. T. Chapman who were working at a floor dinting about five hundred yards from the face ripping.
Two men, Mr. D. Rushton and Mr. R. Dunston were completing the building of the return gate waste side pack with ripping debris left by the previous shift. In the return gate was Mr. D. McGoogan, a mechanic who had been instructed to make an extension piece of the rope on the direct electric hauler. His machine had recently been moved nearer to the face and the existing rope was not long enough to reach the return wheels of the endless haulage. Also in the gate were four electricians Mr. G. Pickles, Mr. R. Howarth and Mr. P. Tinsley who were engaged in hanging a new length of armoured cable and extending the signalling system for the newly positioned electric hauler. Mr. J. Barritt was responsible for supervising for this work and for the routine maintenance of the electrical equipment in the district. According to Mr. J. Holden, the driver of the endless rope haulage engine, three lads, R. Taylor, J Connings and J. Forrest left that cut-back early in the shift to collect tubs which had been left up the No.2 return gate.
The evidence suggested that the conditions on the face in the early part of the shift were quite normal. There was no evidence of roof weighting, of floor movement or of broken coal other that that constant with the firing of shots on the previous shift. The fillers who gave evidence said that on the face line the ventilation was normal and indeed many were wearing jackets and pullovers. With the exception of J. Madden and A. Fisk, none of the fillers heard any shots fired that morning.
The colliery records showed that flame safety lamps of the re-lighter type had been issued to the deputy and two shotfirers and on the non-lighter type to Murray and Fisk.
Automatic firedamp detectors had been provided and used at the colliery but were not available on the day of the explosion because some had become defective and all had been sent from the colliery for repair or overhaul.
When the day shift overman, Mr. Horace Lister, reached the intake end of the face at about 9 a.m., he found that there had been difficulties with the running of the face conveyor. Apart from a visit to the return gate ripping where he tested for firedamp, he appeared to have been entirely preoccupied with these difficulties.
While at the return end of the face, Mr. Horace Lister spoke to Halstead, the shotfirer, who, in the course of some jocular conversation said that he had already made a start by firing three shots. Lister did not go over the conveyor to the face of the stable but he gained the impression that some of the coal was down because he saw it being turned back into the stable by men who were working down there. He left the return end just before 9.45 a.m. to travel down the face.
Madden who was the last filler at the return end of the face line said that he was told by Rushton and Dunston as they were passing props to him over the conveyor, that shots were about to be fired and that they were going down the return gate to take shelter. Madden assumed that he was expected to act as sentry and regarding himself as being in a safe position continued to pull down some coal. Fisk who was working with J. Robinson in the return gate stable said that he did not find firedamp when he tested there at the beginning of the shift. He helped Halstead to stem 'nine out ten shot holes' in the stable and thought that the shotfirer coupled up the leads from the shotholes in series to the shot firing cable. Fisk went about 50 yards down the return gate to what he regarded as a safe place and he believed Halstead stopped some 10 yards short of this point.
When the explosion occurred, Murray was filling coal at a point on the face about thirty yards along from the intake gate stable. He thought it was about 9.40 a.m. (infact it was 9.47 a.m) when he heard a sound like the bursting of a compressed air line. The air reversed but the normal direction of the current was quickly restored, and although there was a considerable amount of dust in the air he did not see any flame.
The fillers along the face described in their own ways their experiences of the blast and the reversal of ventilation.
Madden said he was flung over the conveyor and enveloped in 'swirling soot' which came rushing on to the face from the return end. He felt certain that the noise he heard was that of a shot being fired. Although he had never before experienced a firedamp explosion, he thought that it would produce a far large 'Bang'. Fisk sheltering in the return gate also thought the sound he heard was that of a shot being fired. He said he heard the shotfirer turning the key in the exploder immediately before and he naturally associated this with the event. So far as he could be expected to remember what happened in such circumstances. Fisk seems to have retained an impression that the blast came towards him from the face.
Pollard working on the floor dinting in the intake gate had just looked at his watch at 9.45 a.m. (infact it was 9.47 a.m) when he heard what he described as a thud and he and his mates Bradshaw and Chapman were enveloped in dust. The air reversed but it's normal direction was resumed very quickly. Pollard, whose evidence about the time of the explosion was confirmed by the recordings on the methane drainage chart, realised that something serious had occurred.
Bradshaw telephoned the surface the three men went into the intake gate on to the face. After going sixty yards along the face, Pollard realised that there had been an explosion, he immediately went back to a telephone and informed someone on the surface, probably B. Kennedy the acting manager. He rejoined his mates and together they made their way along the face and into the return gate doing all they could to comfort the survivors, while stretchers and first aid equipment were being brought. Although in the course of his search for survivors, Pollard was obliged to move some bodies, he distinctly recollects it was not necessary to move that of Halstead the shotfirer who was found face downwards with his head outbye, lying on debris in the vicinity of the ripping.
Mr. J. Holden, the engine driver at the cut-back, said at about 9.40 a.m. he attempted to 'inch' the haulage rope but after moving it very slightly it held fast. Some five minutes afterwards he was enveloped in dust and both doors in the cut-back were blown open.
Mr. R. McKenna, who was working in the cut-back at the time was sure Mr. D. Whitehead, who had been a deputy for many years and was now engaged on the supervision of fire-fighting equipment and stone dust barriers, was at the point in the main intake some two hundred yards outbye of James Bradley's junction when he felt the reversal of the air. He went to the cut-back where he was told on the telephone that something had happened in No.2 District. On going through the separation doors into the return, he tested for firedamp and estimated four per cent in the general body of the air. He then went up the intake along No.2 face and into the return gate giving what assistance he could.
The Boothstown Rescue Station's No.1 Team was practising at the nearby Huncoat Colliery and were summoned at 10.15 a.m. They arrived at the colliery 10 minutes later. The Station's No.2 Team arrived from the Rescue Station some 25 miles away at 11.10 a.m.
The No.1 Rescue Team was captained by Mr. L. Wheeldin and accompanied by
Mr. W. Rawstron, the Group Manager. They went into the pit by the surface adit at 10.35 a.m. They entered the main return airway at James Bradley's Junction where they found .006 carbon monoxide but no firedamp in the general body of the air. The ventilation was good and although there was no smoke or haze, there was a slight smell resembling that found after a fire. The team proceeded towards No.2 face by the return gate.
The No.2 Team captained by Mr. W. Sturgeon and accompanied by Mr. L.
Hampson, the Rescue Station Instructor and Mr. E. Whatmore the manager of Bank Hall Colliery, went underground by the surface adit at 11.15 a.m. They travelled the main intake airway where they passed a number of stretcher parties, along the face and a short distance down the return gate, Sturgeon reported among, other matters that he had seen a shotfiring exploder on top of the retained debris near the return gate stable but he was not clear whether or not it was connected to the terminals.
Because of the relatively slight disturbance by violence and the absence of fire and the rapid dispersal of the afterdamp the affected area was re-entered very soon after the explosion. True to the traditions of the industry many willing helpers were immediately available to give first aid treatment including the administration of morphia to the injured. Very soon afterwards all the survivors were examined underground and further treatment given where necessary by the nursing sister and the Group Medical officer. The positions of those who died in the pit were determined by the rescue teams.