We care and we remember

Tragedy at Gloria Colliery, 24 February 1994

At 00:45 on 24 February 1994, an underground fire at Gloria Colliery, Koornfontein, Mpumalanga, resulted in 33 mineworkers being trapped some 180m underground. Seventeen employees who made their way to a refuge bay were rescued; tragically 16 employees died in the incident.

Investigations by the mine and the authorities pieced together the events leading up to the incident. Prior to the outbreak of the fire, electrical short circuits caused power outages on several occasions in various sections of the mine, which was owned by Trans-Natal Coal Corporation at the time. Attempts to reconnect power supply to these sections failed when a transformer exploded, injuring one employee and causing a fire which filled the main intake airway with smoke.

The incident was reported to the mine’s control room and notice was given to the two affected production sections. Employees who were working in one section of the mine managed to find their way to the refuge bay. However, employees who were working in Section 5 at the time lost their way in the smoke. While they were equipped with self-contained self-rescue equipment which provides a 30-minute oxygen supply, the employees never made it to the refuge bay and were trapped underground for 40 hours. As a result, these employees tragically lost their lives.

Meanwhile, the mineworkers who made it to the refuge bay were constantly in telephonic contact with the mine’s control room. Supplies were lowered down a narrow borehole, through which oxygen was pumped. The men had asked for and received playing cards, dice, soup and coffee.

Around 160 mine rescue teams, trained and coordinated by Mine Rescue Services, worked tirelessly to reach the survivors and to recover those that had lost their lives.

By 11:00, the T5 rescue drill was in place, and drilling to reach the miners in the refuge bay had started. This was the third emergency ‘outing’ of the drill purchased on behalf of the Chamber of Mines Collieries committee and commissioned in 1977. The T5 was able to reach the workings of all but 20% of the collieries in South Africa at the time. Drilling of a 640mm diameter hole commenced and holed adjacent to the rescue chamber, but could not ultimately be used to bring people to surface owing to poor conditions, including poor visibility.

At 19:45 as a result of the MRS interventions, the mineworkers was reached by the MRS ‘proto teams’ and were ‘walked out’ to surface using long duration self-contained self-rescuers.

Following the investigations into the cause of the fire, oil-filled transformers were phased out from all underground workings in the South African mining industry. The DMR has also issued a Guideline for the Compilation of a Mandatory Code of Practice for the Prevention of Fires at Mines.

The South African coal sector has seen vast safety improvements over the past years and South African coal mines are among the safest mines in the world today.

Over the past 23 years, the coal mining industry has demonstrated a continued improvement in its safety performance. Over this period the number of fatalities in the South African coal industry decreased by 96.6% and the number of injuries decreased by 34%.

The Chamber and its members are committed to ensuring that every mine worker returns from work unharmed every day. Through the lessons learnt from tragedies such as Gloria Colliery, the industry strives to avoid incidents of any kind, which result in a tragedy that affects many people.

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