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1950: Miners trapped underground by landslide

AUDIO : Miners William Clark and David Jesse tell what happened

Rescuers have confirmed 116 miners trapped underground in Knockshinnoch Castle colliery at New Cumnock in Ayrshire, Scotland, for more than 24 hours are safe.

Thirteen other men who were separated from the main group are still missing and no contact has been made.

The men became trapped when a field about the size of a football pitch collapsed yesterday evening, forming a crater about 300 ft (91.4 m) by 200 ft (61m) and about 50 ft (15.2 m) deep. It sent liquid peat cascading into the mine, blocking the way out.

Although the miners were able to phone for help there was no way of reaching them. Rescue workers decided the easiest way to get them out was through an abandoned mine next door.

Danger of explosion

It took until 2230 GMT for the rescuers to clear a passage through the disused mine and break through the final 30 ft (9.1 m) wall of coal and rock that separated the two collieries.

The rescue team, made up of hundreds of miners, firefighters and trained rescuers, has been working all day to shore up the walls and ceiling of the old mine.

They have had to work in relays in the cramped tunnels - using fans to disperse the gas known as firedamp which accumulates in sealed mines. Firedamp is not poisonous but it reduces the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere making breathing difficult and it is also highly flammable.

One of the rescue workers collapsed because the air was so foul and had to be helped to the surface.

The danger of explosion meant the rescuers had to use hand tools to cut through the rock.

Volunteers have also been working above ground, filling the crater made by the landslide with haystacks, trees and other materials to prevent any further slippage. More peat falling into the hole could have blocked what little ventilation the trapped men had.

The buried men kept in phone contact every 15 minutes or so. They were instructed to help the rescue operation by digging gently so as not to let in a sudden rush of foul air from the disused pit as they had no breathing apparatus.

Once the wall was finally breached, a siren was sounded on the surface to let family and friends know the men were safe.

Huge crowds gathered near the pithead and police have linked arms to form a protective cordon around the exit.

Shortly before midnight, rescuers began taking food and drink into the pit for the miners.

It will be a long, slow process to bring the miners to the surface. The rescue tunnel is only wide enough for one man to crawl through at a time and many are said to be weak.

Area Manager of the National Coal Board David McArdle has described the rescue operation as the greatest in the history of Scottish mining.

In Context
The first man was eventually brought to the surface at 1545 GMT on Saturday afternoon.

The presence of dangerous gases delayed the rescue effort and the miners had to be brought out wearing breathing apparatus. It was a difficult decision to make as the equipment was very heavy to carry and also required special training.

Many of the men had to be carried by teams of volunteers lining the three mile (4.8 km) route to the surface.

In total, 116 men were rescued - the last was brought out in the early hours of Monday 11 September.

The men revealed how they kept their spirits up by singing and doing comedy turns.

Thirteen men died in the disaster. They had been separated from their colleagues and were not found.

Andrew Houston, the oversman at the colliery, was subsequently awarded the George Medal. He took charge when the accident happened and led the men to a safer part of the pit .

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