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1979: Three die in Golborne mine blast

Three men have been killed in an underground explosion at Golborne colliery, near Wigan in Lancashire.

Eight others were seriously injured when a fireball shot 200 yards(183m) along a tunnel, which was 1,800ft (549m) underground.

The injured were taken to local hospitals in the area with serious burns and lung injuries.

It is believed the blast was caused when a build-up of methane gas caught light but it is not clear what caused the gas to ignite.

'Terrible tragedy'

Another 100 men working at the pit at the time of the explosion, which occurred at about 1130 hours today, were taken to safety.

Many joined the rescue efforts. One of them, Frank Gormley, son of the president of the National Union of Miners (NUM), Joe Gormley, drove a train to the seam face to help carry the dead and injured out of the mine.

Arrangements were being made to transport the injured, some of whom had burns on 90% of their bodies, from local hospitals to the burns unit at Withington hospital in Manchester.

Ambulance workers at Hindley and Wigan broke their strike to take the injured to hospitals.

Following the explosion, Energy Secretary, Tony Benn, MP, visited the scene with the local Labour MP, John Evans.

He said: "It is the most terrible tragedy

"I have come to express sympathy with the families. The human cost of coal is still a very high cost and we must never take it for granted."

Golborne colliery has one of the best safety records in the industry.

But methane is a gas which occurs naturally underground and is feared by miners. The victims in this case were all carrying methane-detecting equipment.

Julian Griffiths, deputy director of the National Coal Board's western area, said: "The men were equipped with methanometers and safety lamps.

"Three electricians were reconnecting an electrical supply. The others were believed to be transporting ventilation plant and other equipment.

"Work has been going on developing that section for two years."

The dead were named as John McKenna, 37, from Bryn near Wigan, Colin Dallimore, 29, from Wigan and Joe Berry, 41, from Leigh.

In Context
By 2 April the number of dead had risen to 10. There was just one survivor, 20-year-old apprentice electrician, Brian Rawsthorne from Garswood in Lancashire.

Desmond Edwards, 44, died on 21 March. The following day the incident claimed Patrick Grainey, 40. His brother, Peter Grainey, 41, died the day after that. By 2 April all but one of the injured men had died. They were Brian Sherman, 23, Bernard Trimble, 34, Raymond Hill, 33 and Mr Walter McPherson, 45. They all died from injuries sustained in the blast.

Two days after the explosion it emerged that bosses at the pit knew of a ventilation fan that was out of order.

This caused methane levels to build up at a much faster rate than normal.

Yorkshire miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, said the Coal Board incentive bonus scheme had led to a "staggering increase" in the number of deaths in British pits.

An inquest held in October 1979 returned verdicts of death by misadventure on the victims.

Brian Rawsthorne was able to provide an account of the accident and it was revealed the blast occurred when electrician Colin Dallimore, who had been working on a bank of switches, tested the circuit, causing a "spark and a bang".

Mr Rawsthorne told the inquest he was catapulted backwards by the force of the explosion.

In the days following the tragedy, the Mayor of Wigan launched an appeal fund for the dependents of the miners who died. A total of 30,000 was raised.

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