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Easington Disaster - 29 May 1951 - Page 1

In Memory Of those Who Died - 83 killed, Including 2 Rescue Men

Easington Colliery
Easington Colliery

Easington Colliery, was one of the most modern and productive mines in Europe but at 4.20am the picks of the coal cutting machine cutter, which was working in the Duck Bill district of the Five Quarter seam, struck pyrites causing sparks which ignited firedamp causing an explosion which brought down 120 yards of roof and entombed 81 men.

The explosion took place 900 feet below ground. 38 men were coming to the end of their shift and were to be replaced by 43 men who were working the fore-shift.

The cause of the explosion was the ignition of firedamp triggered by the picks of a coal cutting machine, operating on a retreating longwall face, when they struck pyrites.

The explosion spread through 16,000 yards of roadway and caused the deaths of 81 persons. Two persons died in the ensuing rescue operations.

The Inquiry was opened at the Easington Colliery Welfare Hall, Easington, on 30th October and terminated on 15th November. Evidence was taken on 13 days and 75 witnesses were examined.

The death toll rose when two rescue men were killed, taking the death toll to 83.
They were Henry Burdess, 43, a Deputy, from Brancepeth Colliery, and John Wallace, 26, Back Overman.

Rescue Worker Casualties

John Young Wallace, a fully trained rescue man of 26 and an overman at Easington, was acting as the captain of a rescue team when he met his death. About half an hour after leaving the fresh air base the team was exploring the West Materials Road in the neighbourhood of No. 10 Stenton when, without any previous signal of distress, Wallace sank to his knees, said a few words from the side of his mouth about sweating, sat down and then fell over unconscious. Probably he died almost at once as his jaw would sag when he lost consciousness and the lethal external atmosphere leaking past the mouth piece would prove fatal within a few moments.

Apparently the team had been walking rather more quickly than is usual or prudent in rescue operations and they had had to negotiate a number of obstructions, but they had travelled only about 700 yards from the base and no other member of the team was distressed.

According to the evidence, when Wallace collapsed his mouth-piece and nose clip were in place; air was flowing normally into the breathing bag from the liquid air pack; and he\ had not previously spoken.

Wallace undoubtedly died from carbon monoxide poisoning. A post-mortem examination revealed in both lungs a degree of emphysema sufficient to cause breathlessness on heavy physical exertion, especially if such exertion were undertaken whilst wearing self-contained breathing apparatus under conditions of both mental and physical stress. In answer to questions by Mr. T. A. Jones and myself, Dr. W. C. Sharp, H.M. Medical Inspector of Mines, expressed the opinion that as a consequence of his exertions Wallace might have experienced sufficient difficulty in breathing to cause an involuntary opening of the mouth; that this would allow the outside atmosphere to leak past the mouth-piece; and that with the high concentration of carbon monoxide existing—probably of the order of three per cent. - even a slight leakage would induce a sufficient quantity into the breathing circuit to cause him to collapse.

Three days after the death of Wallace, Henry Burdess, a trained rescue man, died in somewhat similar circumstances.

About 35 minutes after leaving the fresh air base, Burdess signalled to his captain that he was in distress. His breathing bag was inflated and functioning normally and his nose-clip and mouth-piece were in place. Although the team had only travelled between 600-700 yards and the other members were quite cool and comfortable, he was sweating heavily.. His captain and another man tried to help him out but after going ten to 12 yards he collapsed. Eventually he was carried out on a stretcher, but on arrival at the fresh air base was found to be dead.

Examination and tests of the apparatus carried out by Mr. Calder showed that the automatic relief valve was set at 2.6 inches water-gauge instead of 3.5 inches water-gauge, and that one of the teeth grips of the mouth-piece was torn. Otherwise the apparatus was in order.

The effect of the relief valve being set at 2.6 inches water-gauge would be to bring down the volume of air in the breathing bag to rather less than the six litres normally held when the valve is set at 3.5 inches. This, however, should not have had any adverse effect as the quantity of air produced by the Aerophor apparatus is much in excess of that normally required; to quote Mr. Calder, "I would not expect it to affect a man’s breathing in any way other than to reduce the resistance against breathing". As regards the torn teeth grip, it is impossible to say when the damage took place. It may have happened before or after Burdess collapsed, but in any event I do not think it had any particular significance. This view was confirmed in part at least when the apparatus, re-charged but otherwise as it was taken from Burdess’ body, successfully passed one test in which the wearer walked for two hours at four miles per hour and a second test of two hours in which various operations were carried out in an irrespirable atmosphere.

In Memory Of those Who Died

Anson, John 64 Shifter 8 Thomas Street, Easington
Armstrong, William
6 Barwick Street, Easington
Bedding, Mark Smart
84 Wordsworth Road, Easington
Brenkley, George
Brenkley, Thomas
24 Dean Avenue, Easington
Brennan, Louis
3 Cuba Street, Easington
Brown, George Miller
14 Cook Street, Easington
Burdess, Henry,
Overcome by noxious gas.
Died 1st June 1951
Deputy, also
Rescue Worker
Brancepeth Colliery In Memory FEJ
Burn, Bertram
12 Thorpe Street, Easington
Cain, Emmerson
22 Ashton Street, Easington
Cairns, Frederick
72 Station Road, Easington
Calvert, George
5 Clifton Street, Easington
Calvin, James
Conveyor Maintenance
1 Laburnum Crescent, Easington
Carr, Frederick
5 Leachmere Terrace, Ryhope
Carr, George William
Timber Drawer
5 Cook Street, Easington
Carr, James
Timber Drawer
7 Vincent Street, Easington
Challoner, John Edwin (Teddy)
10 Boston Street, Easington
Champley, Richard
29 Hazel Terrace, Shotton
Chapman, Albert Kerr
48 Attlee Crescent, Easington
Charlton, Joseph
Brother in law of John Lamb
Master Shifter
15 Baldwin Street, Easington
Clough, John
2 West Crescent, Easington
Dryden, William Arthur
13 Tower Street, Easington
Ellison, John
2 Wear Terrace, Easington
Fishburn, Charles
7 Cardiff Street, Easington
Fishburn, Henry
111 Station Road, Easington
Garside, Thomas
49 Oak Road, Easington
Godsman, Joseph
41 North Road, Wingate
Goulburn, George
Mason's Labourer
54 Station Road, Easington
Gowland, Albert
Leaves a widow and three boys
20 Bradley Street, Easington
Goyns, Ernest
20 Stokoe Crescent, Easington
Goyns, Herbert
1 Fifteenth Street, Wheatley Hill
Harker, John
30 Glebe Avenue, Easington
Henderson, John William
The Cottage, Hawthorne
Hepple Thomas 31 Filler 16 Easington Street Easington
Hunt Daniel 54 Datal 8 Castle Street Easington
Hunt Stephen 24 Filler 5 The Crescent Easington
Hunt William 43 Datal 29 West Crescent Easington
Hutton Arthur Chambers 42 Filler 72 Oak Road Easington
Jepson Frederick Ernest 68 Shifter 11 Abbot Street Easington In Memory FEJ
Buried: Garden of Remembrance at Easington Colliery Cemetery
Jones Lawrence 36 Filler 1 Attlee Crescent Easington
Jones Thomas Edward 35 Deputy 62 Station Road Easington
Jopling Herbert Jeffrey 57 Shifter 11 Ashton Street Easington
Kelly John
Father of William
Leaves a widow and two sons
57 Datal 11 Clifton Street Easington
Kelly William (Billy)
Son of John
28 Filler 11 Clifton Street Easington
Lamb, John, Edward, Armstrong
Brother in law of Joseph Charlton
43 Datal 15 Butler Street Easington
Link, Jesse, Stephenson 44 Datal 6 Anthony Street Easington
Lippeatt, Joseph, Fairless 37 Filler Oak Road Easington
Lynch, Peter 20 Filler 4 Stephenson Square Easington
McRoy, Denis 23 Filler 22 Bolam Street Easington
McRoy, William, James 31 Filler 9 Tower Street Easington
Milburn, Robert, William 26 Filler 37 George Avenue Easington
Nelson, Harold 49 Stoneman 27 Bradley Street Easington
Newcombe, Albert 67 Stoneman 13 Beatty Street Easington
Nicholson, Norman 29 Filler 51 Oak Road Easington
Noble, Robert 45 Shifter 24 Austin Street Easington
Parkin, William 24 Filler 31 Thorntree Gill Peterlee
Parks, William Edward Forbes 62 Shifter 7 Raby Avenue Easington
Pase, Robert 63 Shifter 16 The Crescent Easington
Peaceful, Stanley 37 Stoneman 6 South Street Thornley
Penman, Alexander 42 Cutter 71 Oak Road Easington
Porter, James 32 Filler 51 George Avenue Easington
Porter, John, Thomas 23 Filler 3 Alnwick Street Easington
Rice, Thomas, Valentine 53 Shifter 2 Beaty Street Easington
Robinson, John 50 Stoneman 5 Carol Street Easington
Robson, John, George 25 Filler East View Easington
Scott, George 53 Datal 1 Burns Street Easington
Seymour, Albert 64 Datal 32 Oak Road Easington
Sillito, Frederick 52 Shifter 10 Angus Street Easington
Stubbs, George, Henry 60 Shifter 21 Alma Street Easington
Surtees, Hugh Bell 36 Datal 4 Bevan Crescent Easington
Thompson, Laurence 54 Datal 2 Boyd Street Easington
Surtees, Matthew, White 61 Shifter 22 Alma Street Easington
Thompson, Thomas 28 Underground Bricklayer 2 Wickham Street Easington
Trisnan, Thomas 43 Stoneman 56 Oak Road Easington
Turnbull, Robert
Leaves a wife one son and two daughters (was due to retire in 3 months)
64 Master Wasteman 29 Ascot Street Easington
Wallace, John, (Jack) Young
Rescue Worker overcome by noxious gas. Died same day
26 Back Overman Deneside Seaham In Memory J-Wallace
Wilkie, George 63 Shifter 16 Argent Street Easington
Wilkinson, Reginald 40 Stoneman 33 Hart Lane West Hartlepool
Williams, Matthew
Fatally injured and
died the same day
18 Datal 6 Ashton Street Easington
Willins, Robert 45 Fore Overman 11 Byron Street Easington
Wilson, John 62 Hauling Engineman 23 Baldwin Street Easington
Wilson, Stephen 60 Shifter 9 Anthony Street Easington

Report on the causes of, and circumstances attending, the explosion which occurred at Easington Colliery, County Durham, on the 29th May, 1951