Marcus Evans Group | Worldwide Headquarters | American Offices | Latin America | European Offices | African / Asian Offices

Miners trapped underground in south Wales coalmine

Rescuers are ‘optimistic’ about freeing four miners stuck 90 metres down in mine near Swansea

Rescuers said on Thursday night that they were “hopeful and optimistic” that four miners trapped 90 metres (295ft) underground in a south Wales drift mine could be set free.

The alarm was raised at around 9.20am on Thursday at the Gleision colliery, near Cilybebyll in Pontardawe, Swansea. Three men managed to get out alive, as water rushed into the small mine.

One of those who escaped was later taken to hospital in an air ambulance, where he is said to be in a “critical condition”.

Chris Margetts, from South Wales fire and rescue service, said: “What we have determined is the miners are located approximately 90 metres underground. They are down a 250-metre (820ft) main route into the mine … There are numerous little tunnels and old workings which all potentially have air pockets in.

“They are experienced miners, they know the layout of the mine, they would know where to go in this situation.

“What we are dealing with is their egress out of the mine is full of water.”

He said rescuers were pumping the water out and, once they were in a position to search off the main shaft, they would then systematically look through the smaller tunnels and shafts.

“The conditions down there are favourable. It’s not raining, there’s water at the bottom but the air supply is good.

“We are not overly concerned about the atmospheric conditions in the mine.”

He added that rescuers were very “hopeful and optimistic” the miners could be freed successfully.

He said they were constantly monitoring the quality of the air, but could not communicate with the trapped men. Specially trained teams had been brought in and he said the previous mine owner was helping.

Speaking of how the accident happened, he said: “The reason the mine flooded is because the wall to an old working failed.

“This is a body of water that went from where it was being held into an area where it should not be, that cut off their exit.”

He added: “At all times there’s 100% effort within the mine to achieve a successful outcome we want. There’s a lot of teams involved and a lot of personnel here, but the people are brought in so you can rotate your crews.

“There’s more than enough specialist resources to deal with this situation.”

He said they had already identified several areas they wanted to search as soon as they could get access.

“We are quite confident there’s lots of areas down there where these miners can be safely housed.

“Speaking to the miners themselves that work the collieries, they know where the water goes, they know which direction to go, they know where the pockets of air are in the air shafts. They’re miners, they work underground, they do not panic in these situations.

“They are mentally and physically equipped to deal with this situation.”

The frantic effort continued into the evening with rescuers managing a breakthrough, eight hours after they started, when water levels inside the mine began to fall.

As the hours ticked on, families and friends of the missing men maintained an anxious vigil at a local community centre.

The Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, said the whole of Wales was praying that the miners would make it out alive. “As someone with very strong family links with both the Swansea valley and the mining industry, my thoughts and prayers – and those of the people of Wales – are with the trapped men and their families at this difficult time,” he said.

“My main priority is to ensure those trapped are rescued as quickly and as safely as possible.

“All emergency services are at the scene – and they are being supported by specialist rescue teams from across the UK. They are working in very dangerous and difficult conditions. We know that water is ingressing into the mine. The mine itself is underneath quite a steep slope near the river Tawe.”

David Cameron said “every support” would be given to emergency services trying to rescue the miners, adding that his “thoughts are with those missing and their family and friends”.

South Wales police superintendent Phil Davies said emergency services were involved in a “very difficult rescue operation”.

He said one of the miners who escaped was being treated in hospital, but the other two were giving rescuers “a lot of information about what has happened”.

He added: “We are dealing with a difficult rescue operation, but we are doing everything possible.”

Rescuers used lights and pumps as they tried to work out how much water was in the mine. It was reported that they knew where the miners were working, but did not know whether they had moved.

As the rescue continued, family and friends of the trapped miners gathered in nearby Rhos community centre, which was turned into an information centre.

Among those offering their assistance was South Wales West assembly member Bethan Jenkins, who lives nearby.

She said: “It is a very anxious time.

“Everybody is pulling together to help out in whatever small way they can.”

The small hillside mine near Cilybebyll has been in operation since 1993.

Neath Labour MP and former cabinet minister Peter Hain gave details of the rescue efforts under way at the mine. “This is a desperately serious situation. I have talked to all the families concerned who are my constituents,” he said. “The police and the rescue services have assured me that everything possible is being done to rescue these men.”

He said that any extra resources local services needed would be brought in from other parts of the UK. “Nothing matters more than these men’s lives.”

He added that he had been briefed on rescue efforts by police command and rescue teams.

“They tried initially to get into the tunnel that the men use to get in and out of the mine but it was blocked with water.

“They have subsequently tried the mine’s air tunnel but there was insufficient oxygen, so now they are pumping oxygen in and water out.”

Councillor Arthur Threlfall, who serves on Cilybebyll community council, had earlier described the situation as very worrying. He said: “I understand the injured man was taken to hospital via helicopter. The mine is in quite a remote spot. At the moment, you cannot go anywhere near it because a large area around it has been cordoned off by the police.

“Gleision is one of those collieries that has open and shut many times, and they tend to work on the basis of when coal is found. However, it has recently been extended.

“This is the first mining disaster I have known for many years. There are not many collieries left like there used to be. However, it is a very worrying situation and it has shocked a lot of people.”

Gwenda Thomas, the assembly member for Neath, said: “I was first made aware of the incident this morning and I am travelling back from Cardiff to Rhos community centre to see if there is any assistance I can provide.

“My thoughts are with all of the family and friends of those who are currently trapped in the mine. I have every confidence in the emergency services at the scene.”

Thomas said the accident brought back memories of an age when mining was more widespread in Wales and accidents more frequent. She added that while most mining in Wales nowadays is of the opencast variety, small private mines still exist. “I believe that this is a drift mine and I know of another mine in the Neath valley where they are currently offering youngsters apprenticeships.” © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds