May 24 1902
Free Press Files
One of the worst mining disasters in the history of British Columbia occurred at Coal Creek mines at 7 o’clock Thursday night when from one hundred and twenty five to one hundred and fifty men met almost instant death at Mrs. 2 and 3 mines. The explosion occurred in the deeps of No. 3 and not a man out of some ninety men who were employed in the shaft lives to tell the tale. In No. 3 workings, which are connected with No. 2, the catastrophe was not so bad, nearly all those working on the right side about twenty in number, succeeding in making their escape. The first indications that anything unusual had occurred was a volume of smoke, gas and dust shooting a thousand feet into the sir from the fan house of No. 2. Word was immediately sent to Fernie and in exactly twelve minutes time three doctors and two coach loads of people were on the scene and the work of rescue commenced. Robert Dirscan, Dr. Bonnell and True Wetherby were the first to enter the mine, the latter leading the way. When about five hundred feet into the shaft Driscan was overcome by the afterdamp and had it not been for his two companions would have perished. He was removed to the entrance and after repeated efforts by the doctors, recovered. He then gave instructions to the rescue party to commence repairing the overcasts in the roof of the tunnel. The overcasts are the pipes which conduct the air through the mine and as they had been almost completely destroyed it was impossible to enter the mine owing to the gas which prevailed. Volunteers were called for and a score of brave men sprang to the work. For nearly six hours the work was pursued with tireless energy. Every few minutes a man would collapse, but new men were not lacking to take up the work. About 2 am the first body from No. 2 was rescued, that of Joe Sengala, and shortly after the body of Stephen Morgan was carried out. Neither men were marked and had evidently succumbed to the fatal afterdamp. Two unknown men were next to come out. None of the victims gave the slightest signs of life and they were removed to the wash house. About four o’clock the men penetrated so fat that the gas was terrible and operations had to be suspended for an hour or two to give the mine time to clear. The first victim to come out of No. 3 was a lad named Robinson, about thirteen years of age. Among those who succeeded in getting out alive were: C Burrows, Jas Baker, P McNeill, C Dunlop, A Farquharson, Jas Carr, Jas Doble, J Sharper, H Monahan and H Salter. Many act of bravery were witnessed during the night. The heroic work of True Westherby, who time and again, entered the pit, where men were falling all around him, has won for himself golden opinions in the minds of the people of Fernie. A number of the rescuers, including Supt. Driscan, probably owe their lives to his brave work. A fact worthy of note was the absence of foreigners among the rescue parties. The track for the mines to Fernie was lined with foreigners making their way down, but the English speaking miners had responded to the call of duty and remained to assist in the work of rescue. The heroism of the men was manifested to all. Time and again men were carried out overcome, but in a few minutes were back again working like beavers. The work of Foreman Graham was especially worthy of mention and the progress of the rescue party was largely due to his able efforts. All day Friday the work of rescue continued and at six o’clock some thirty-one had been taken out. The scenes around the mine during the day were heartrending, mothers looking for their sons and wives for their husbands. Nothing but despair was written upon the faces of all. Among the bodies that have been recovered are:
An Italian whose name is unknown
W H Brierly
M J Fleming
The work is proceeding slowly this morning. Only one body was taken out during the night owing to the large amount of gas in the mine.
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