Tragedy averted as 77 trapped Tara miners rescued
A MAJOR tragedy was avoided yesterday when 77 men were successfully evacuated from Tara Mines, having been trapped for almost six hours more than 1,000 feet under ground.
Last night technical experts were examining the scene of a blaze which started when a 50-tonne truck burst into flames in a tunnel at the mine, just outside Navan, Co Meath.
The fire immediately activated the mine's automatic emergency procedure, which involves circulating a harmless warning gas throughout the 30-35 miles of tunnels warning the 101 men in the works at the time of the danger.
The 24 workers who were closest to the exits left the mine quickly while the remaining 77 headed for nine refuge stations located at various places in the tunnel network, which spans several hundred acres.
The refuge stations are specially designed to house miners in the event of major accidents. Fresh air is pumped through to the stations and telephones provide contact with those on the surface.
During their long wait underground, the miners were able to phone their families to assure them of their safety.
When the fire started, a truck driver alerted safety personnel and three specialised mine rescue teams totalling 25 people swung into action. Navan Hospital was put on alert in case of any injuries.
A witness told of the moments after the fire: ``There was an explosion, I heard a noise and ran down to see flames, the alarm was raised and we all evacuated to the safety shafts.''
As soon as the company was satisfied that the situation was sufficiently stable, they began to bring groups of men up in trucks.
By 8.30pm, company spokesman Colm Conachy reported that all of the miners had reached the surface unharmed and were returning to their families.
Mr Conachy said: ``Everybody is more or less on the surface and the fire on the truck has virtually gone out''.
None of the miners had suffered smoke inhalation or injuries of any kind and staff at Navan Hospital casualty department had been told to stand down.
Mr Conachy said he would be unable to say what caused the fire until company inspectors had examined the vehicle. A preliminary investigation was being carried out last night but a full inquiry will proceed today.
The spokesman said he was satisfied that the mine's emergency procedures had worked well. ``When everything is over, we will check through the systems again to ensure that all the plans for emergencies worked the way they should have done.''
There was a similar incident at the mine a number of years ago, but the Finnish-owned company has had an enviable safety record.
Men were already reporting for the night shift at the mine at 9pm last night and Mr Conachy said mining operations would continue, as normally as possible although he said some shortfall in production was probable.
The area around the burned out truck will be cordoned off until it can be removed and tests are to be carried out to ensure there has been no damage to the communications system or elsewhere.
Tara Mines, which has been in operation since 1977, is the biggest active mine in Europe, producing 10,000-11,000 tonnes of ore daily from which zinc and lead is extracted.
The metals are then exported to Europe and elsewhere for use in galvanising and rust protection. The company employs 600 people, both directly and indirectly.