The First Rescue Attempts
Wednesday 4th March 8.45 p.m.
At 8.45 p.m. a further, and partially successful attempt, was made to descend the No. 1 shaft by a party consisting of the manager, under manager, engine-wright and some others, about six in all. When they got down to within 25 yards of the bottom they could descend no lower on account of the smoke. They heard falls taking place, and whenever these occurred the hot air was driven up the shaft.
Thus 3¼ hours after the accident a nearly successful descent was made of the shaft near the bottom of which the fire was raging. Judging from the heavy falls taking place Mr. Waterhouse argued that the woodwork and all the supports in the inset were burnt out. There can be no doubt, however, that owing to the tubs which were standing on the north side (30 to 40) containing coal, the heat would at this time be intense, and when the descent was made, unless the men in the workings had taken some means of short circuiting the air, they must in every probability have all succumbed.
Twenty-five miners were still below ground.
The only hope on the part of the management was that they had short circuited the air. Mr. Waterhouse's belief was that they would be dead, probably within one hour of the occurrence of the fire, unless they had short-circuited the air.
Mr. Waterhouse investigated both upcast pit top and fan drift and down the downcast, and finding them full of smoke, came to the conclusion that the fire was smothered to some extent by the falls. He decided 'that putting the fan on and assisting the natural ventilation might dilute the atmosphere allowing a descent being made of one or other of the shafts.
The fan was put on at 10 revolutions, and another descent made of the downcast shaft; the air conditions being better they got a little nearer the bottom this time - probably within 10 yards.
The fan was then put on to 22 revolutions and a third descent made, but they got no lower than in the previous descent.
Yet another descent was made and this time heavy falls were heard which seemed to be very near to the shaft, and Mr. Waterhouse feared that the backing of the shaft had gone, which, as was discovered some days later, was probably correct, and deemed that it was dangerous to venture further.
Water had been poured down the main shaft by the Handsworth Fire Brigade.
The condition of the mine atmosphere had improved and a descent of the upcast shaft was decided on. The manager, Jones, and Westwood made a successful descent, and got as far as the communication road in which the four separation doors were fixed, when they decided that it was impossible for anyone to have come up the return airway in the smoke.
Wednesday 4th March 11 p.m
On coming to the surface the manager had a consultation with the Director of the Colliery, Mr. Grazebrook, (who had arrived some time previously - probably after the first descent of No. 1 shaft - and with whom the manager had already had several consultations) as to the desirability of sending for men trained in the use of rescue apparatus (pneumatophors), and at about 11.0 p.m., when Mr. Johnstone, H.M. Inspector of Mines for the Stafford District, had arrived, they telegraphed for the Yorkshire rescue parties.
The Mine managers
Mr. Waterhouse having then expressed the opinion that the conditions had improved, he, Mr. Johnstone, Oubridge, Jones, and Wright descended the upcast pit, taking with them a linnet in a cage. The atmosphere was much better, and proceeding 80 to 100 yards along the No. 2 return they found the air was breathable, though with difficulty, and they only returned because of the danger in their rear, for at the time a large quantity of very pungent smoke was leaking through the doors, a sign that if the doors were burnt through the smoke would render return to the shaft impossible; they would then have been cut off and must certainly have perished. The first time they went into the communication road the bird showed signs of distress, so they retreated into the return airway, where the smoke was more diluted.
Then, after a rest, Mr. Johnstone and another man went in again to examine the first-separation door; they found it standing nearly open and shut it, and endeavoured to stop the leakage, the idea being to improve the atmosphere enough to allow the men to build a stopping there.
Mr. Johnstone said: "Arrangements were made for a party to go down, following us, and cover that door with double canvas, nailing it to the door frame, thus securing an air-tight joint, and covering the bottom of it with sand and small debris, and so to get the smoke kept back. I had hopes by that means that we should be able to get the smoke sufficiently checked to permit of the stopping being built." On their return to the surface a second party, led by the Assistant Inspector of Mines (Mr. Makepeace), was only able to reach the shaft bottom. Very Shortly afterwards Mr. Johnstone, after examining the fan drift, made another descent. "because," he said, "I was not quite satisfied that it (the atmosphere) had become so much worse since I left" ; but he only got two-thirds of the way down. To sum up the situation in Mr. Johnstone's words: "Under these conditions I considered it would be folly to attempt to go further. At the same time I do not wish it to be understood from this that the air through the whole of the workings was in a poisonous condition. I think what we suffered from was the leakage from the door. The air in the return was more respirable than in the shaft."
Next - The Rescue Teams
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