STRONGMAN MINE EXPLOSION
10.04AM, 19TH JANUARY 1967 - GREYMOUTH, WEST COAST
- The state owned Strongman Mine lies 11 kilometres north-east of Greymouth, and was New Zealand's largest underground coal mine. It had been open since 1939, and had an accident-free record.
- On 19 January, 1967, just after 10:00 am, an explosion blew through the section of the mine known as Green's No 2 Rise.
- In seconds the fireball from the explosion fired through the section, killing 19 of the 240 men who were working in the mine at the time.
- An even bigger disaster was averted when just 140 metres from the point of explosion the fireball struck a wet patch in the tunnel where water was seeping through the walls. The fireball slowed, then went out, and in seconds the danger had passed.
- Within four minutes other teams of miners had reached the tunnel leading to Green's section, but were driven back by poisonous gas and smoke.
- A full evacuation of the mine was ordered, and by 10:20 am the police and medical teams had arrived.
- The rescue team, equipped with breathing packs, worked for 14 hours finding the bodies of the dead miners and bringing them to the surface on rail trucks. Often they had to dig their way through falls of coal and rock. Fire-damp reached dangerous levels at times, increasing the risk of another explosion.
- The first bodies were brought to the surface at about 1:00 pm. Thirteen hours later the rescue work was held up while the air cleared, and by then 15 bodies had been found.
- After a delay of five hours the rescue work resumed but when the smouldering coal burst into flames, the section where the remaining four bodies were was sealed off.
- Three weeks later two more bodies were brought out, but the last two could not be reached, and were permanently sealed off.
- A mass funeral was held on January 22 at the Karoro Lawn Cemetery in Greymouth.
- Five men were awarded British Empire Medals for their actions.
- The report of the Commission of Inquiry stated that twenty-two of the mining regulations and provisions had been broken.
- A shot hole for a charge had been fired in a way that was against the regulations, and had broken through the face to an area where fire-damp had built up in some abandoned workings, triggering the explosion.
- The abandoned workings should have been checked for gas.
- Because the Strongman Mine was State-owned, the Government of the time had to pay out between £200,000 and
Strongman Three Score and More
Peter Ewen published 2007.
Strongman Mines 1938-2003
Published by Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd
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