The day trapped pit trio cheated death

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This week marks the 30-year anniversary of a miraculous mining rescue when three local men became trapped three-miles underground.

Miners Peter Watts, Ian Johnson and Peter Williams feared they faced certain death after a tunnel came crashing in at Sherwood Colliery on 15th December, 1983, leaving their only way out blocked by hundreds of tonnes of rock and rubble.

Around 70 rescue workers spent for more than eight hours to free the stranded trio, who were eventually brought to the surface uninjured.

Speaking at the time, Ian Johnson of Sulby Close, Forest Town, said: “We never heard a noise, and we never saw a light, we thought there was no way they could get to us.”

The men had begun digging the tunnel several months earlier and only an hour before the end of their shift, just after midday, the collapse happened.

There had been no prior warning that the tunnel would give way as it came crashing down approximately 150 yards from where they had been working, although no-one at the surface had any idea of where the stricken men had been, fearing the worst.

Two pipe fitters working near to them had been forced to run for their lives when the rocks began tumbling, although the three trapped miners were convinced they had been killed in the fall.

As well as the darkness, their fear was heightened by a constant warning light flashing on a gas warning, indicating the presence of deadly methane.

They laid on the floor eating mints and trying to remain calm and keep their spirits up.

However, they gradually began to gain confidence, first seeing a flickering light, then hearing voices followed by tapping noises.

Hours later their rescuers were able to reach them, which the relieved miners described as being ‘like winning the pools’.

Peter Williams, of Sycamore Road, Mansfield Woodhouse, said: “As soon as we saw the first chap coming through we had a good laugh, it was a lovely sight!”

News that they were alive and well took just minutes to reach their surface to relieved family members who had suffered an agonising wait for news.

But the modest three said the real heroes were those who risked their lives to reach and rescue them, and could not thank them enough.

Peter Watts, of Abbots Croft, Mansfield, said: “They were in more danger than we were, if there had been another rock fall, they would have been crushed underneath.”

An investigation launched in the aftermath of the collapse found a type of metal support included a section of wood strut that had been used in the tunnel, and was found to blame for the incident.

The Inspectorate banned further use of the support.

Rescuers were forced to dig with their bare hands and crawl through a tunnel no more than 18 inches high.

They spent desperate hours chipping away at the rock fall with water constantly dripping on them and pockets of dangerous gas building up around them.

While Mines Rescue were on stand-by, it was the workers’ own colleagues who volunteered to help.

One spokesman said: “There was no way they could use shovels, the lads had to crawl under their stomachs using their hands to press rocks back against the tunnel wall.”

What are YOUR memories of the colliery rescue?