Rescue Brigade Operations
The Cowdenbeath Rescue Station was called at 5.00 a.m.; the first van left in a matter of minutes and arrived at the colliery, some 15 miles away, at 5.35 a.m. The first brigade went underground at 5.55 a.m. quickly followed by a second brigade from Cowdenbeath and by a brigade from the colliery. Coatbridge Rescue Station was alerted at 5.10 a.m. and were called out at 5.50 a.m. They had a brigade underground by 7.20 a.m.
As an initial task, the rescue brigades sought to penetrate the Sea Mine, but attempts had to be suspended at 6.45 a.m. because the smoke had become so dense.
In order to reduce this, it was decided to send a rescue brigade, under W. Shaw, the colliery fire officer, to open the three doors in the No. 2 Heading (Plan No. 2). They attempted to do this from the intake side but were driven back by heat and smoke.
They then travelled 450 yards in a smoke laden atmosphere to reach the doors from the return side. The first two doors were successfully opened but, on opening the third, they were subjected to a blast of intense heat, which singed them and stung their eyes. Visibility was considerably reduced. Some of the brigade were blown over by the blast and their ultimate return to base was only achieved with great difficulty. At about the same time, the body of P. Thomson, greaser, was located in the Cable Belt Dook and a rescue brigade under W. A. Kennedy, rescue man, recovered it at about 8.30 a.m. (Plan No. 3).
At about 9.15 a.m., the atmosphere in the Sea Mine improved and a brigade under J. S. Moyes, rescue man, went in there again. On coming out at 9.35 a.m., they reported having seen four bodies along the Sea Mine inbye the Redd Road. Further brigades were then sent in and the bodies of J. Smith, A. Henderson, A. Thomson and H. Morrison, power loader operators, and J. Tait, overman, were recovered between 9.40 a.m. and 10.25 a.m. Thereafter a brigade, captained by W. Aitken, rescue man, commenced a reconnaissance of the Four Feet area in a search for McArthur, McEneamy, Taylor and Gallacher,all of whom were still missing, but found no signs of them. Conditions were fair at first but they worsened, so much so that a second brigade, under J. McG. Malcolm, was sent in to recall the first brigade. The brigades failed to make contact with each other but the first returned to base at about 11.00 a.m. and the second at about 1.00 p.m. by which time conditions had deteriorated considerably.
Attempts To Control The Fire
As soon as men could be assembled after the discovery of the fire, arrangements were made for a screen to be erected in the Loader Mine near the Bell's Heading junction. Hoses were brought to the Loader Mine but, as the nearest hydrant was in smoke in the Loco Level, they could not be used. There was insufficient hose available to use the hydrant at the bottom of No. 3 Shaft, the nearest in fresh air, so the hydrant was itself transferred to Bell's Heading. The fitting of this hydrant took some time and it was not until two hours after the outbreak of fire that water was first applied to it. When the newly-sited hydrant was brought into use, it was successful in isolating the burning material on the floor of the Loader Mine but the fire was by then virtually out of control. The heat was intense and prevented any advance by fire-fighters towards the Loco Level; indeed, they soon had to be withdrawn to the transfer point. Smoke frustrated an attack on the fire through Bell's Heading and the Loco Level. At about 7.30 a.m. D. Wilson, under-manager, saw fire in the Loco Level from the Old Pumphouse entrance. There was some delay in obtaining hoses; sometime after 8.30 a.m., however, fire-fighters started to play water on the lire, although a roof fall restricted their activity. After about half an hour, they had to withdraw leaving their hoses to play on the fire. Fire-fighting in this part of the pit bottom continued until about 1.00 p.m. when the supply of electricity and water both failed.
Apart from the use of water, screens were erected, doors opened, the fan stopped and started and later slowed down, all as measures designed to control the fire and the movement of smoke.
Extent To Which Measures Failed
At about 6.00 a.m. it became apparent that eleven men were missing. By 11.00 a.m. six bodies had been recovered. Two men were rescued from the Bowhouse Inset at 2.30 p.m . J. McKay, last seen in Dysart Dip No. 3 Section, A. Taylor, who went back in along Four Feet return and H. Gallacher, the 750 Branxton pumper, were still missing. Efforts were made to fight the fire in such a way that it might be possible to find the three men but by 3.00 p.m. on 10th September, conditions had so deteriorated that it was decided that too many men were being placed at risk and stoppings would have to be put on, thus sealing in the bodies.
Those Who Died
Michael Colliery, Fife, 9th September, 1967
Those recovered 9th September 1967
- Alexander Henderson aged 41 years, a power loader operator
- Johnstone Smith aged 36 years, a power loader operator
- James Tait aged 41 years, an overman
- Andrew Thomson aged 55 years, a power loader operator
- Philip Thomson aged 64 years, a greaser.
- Henry Morrison.
There were three bodies that were not found
- Hugh Gallacher aged 61 years, a pumpman
- James McKay aged 59 years, a greaser
- Andrew Taylor aged 43 years, a deputy.