‘We knew they were gone’ re­calls sur­vivor

The Observer - - NEWS -

HE SUR­VIVED the 1994 un­der­ground coal mine ex­plo­sion at the Moura No. 2 mine, how­ever Moura lo­cal Peter Ein con­tin­ues to suf­fer from the dev­as­ta­tion of the tragedy and the loss of his fam­ily and friends whose bod­ies could not be re­cov­ered.

On Sun­day, Au­gust 7, about 11pm, Mr Ein was in the 1 North West sec­tion of the mine with “a full crew”, he said, re­count­ing the trau­matic night’s events.

The first ex­plo­sion oc­curred at 11.40pm.

There were 21 men work­ing in the mine at the time – 10 men in­clud­ing Mr Ein from the north­ern area who es­caped within 30 min­utes of the ex­plo­sion and 11 work­ers from the south­ern area who did not es­cape.

Those who did not re­turn in­cluded a crew of eight who were work­ing in the 5 South sec­tion of the mine un­der­tak­ing first work­ings for pil­lar devel­op­ment, and three oth­ers, a belt­man and a seal­ing con­trac­tor with an as­sist­ing miner, who were also in the south­ern side of the mine.

Mr Ein knew when he even­tu­ally reached the top of the mine that his brother-in-law, 31-year-old Michael Ryan, re­mained trapped in the sec­tion where he had heard the ex­plo­sion come from, fur­ther un­der­ground than where he had been.

“The fel­las that got killed were fur­ther down than us, and we were a fair way down.

“It took us over half an hour to drive out in two ve­hi­cles.”

He said he and the men he was with heard and felt the late-night ex­plo­sion, ini­tially think­ing it was part of the mine’s roof col­laps­ing.

“We heard the ex­plo­sion – we got picked up like rag dolls and thrown around. We couldn’t see any­thing for the dust. Ev­ery­thing was pitch black. You couldn’t even see the light from the top of your hel­met.

“And while we were try­ing to get out, we had no phone ser­vice. It wasn’t good.”

He said that in­clud­ing him­self, about four of the men had Mines Res­cue ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We worked out how to get out our­selves. We went up top and ev­ery­thing up there was black. All the cars in the car park were black from coal dust.”

He knew that when the other men from the mine hadn’t re­turned af­ter about three to four hours “they were gone”.

“And the next day the gas lev­els were too high and it was still on fire.”

At 12.20pm on Tues­day, Au­gust 9, a sec­ond and more vi­o­lent ex­plo­sion sent a plume of black smoke into the sky, forc­ing res­cue and re­cov­ery plans to be aban­doned.

The mine was sealed at the sur­face and, Mr Ein said, “That was the end of it.

“They brought the bull­doz­ers in.”

The pop­u­la­tion of Moura at the time was about 1500, and the tragedy brought the num­ber of lives lost in three mine ex­plo­sions to 36.

The first was the Kianga min­ing dis­as­ter at the Kianga No. 1 mine on Septem­ber 20, 1975, claim­ing 13 lives. The mine was sealed and the bod­ies were never re­cov­ered.

The sec­ond was on July 16, 1986, when an ex­plo­sion in the Moura No. 4 un­der­ground mine killed 12 min­ers, the youngest aged 18.

The bod­ies were re­cov­ered af­ter this tragedy, which was thought to have been ini­ti­ated by one of two pos­si­ble sources, ei­ther fric­tional ig­ni­tion or a flame safety lamp.

Mr Ein said the town has “done all right”, al­though the pain, loss and grief re­main.

“I feel it ev­ery day. I have trou­ble still even sleep­ing now ev­ery night,” Mr Ein, who fin­ished work­ing for the mines in No­vem­ber 2013, said.

Photo: con­tributed

STILL GRIEV­ING: Peter Ein says he still has trou­ble sleep­ing.

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