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An Unofficial History of Coal Mining in the Illawarra

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Rev.1

Appin Colliery Gas Explosion - 1979

Appin Colliery was one of a number of coal mines owned by Australian Iron and Steel Ltd. operating in the Bulli seam, west of the Illawarra escarpment.

Commencing production in 1962, Appin developed a reputation as a "gassy" mine as it worked the 2.5 to 3 metre thick at some 500 metres depth of cover. "It is no exaggeration to say that the story of Appin is a story of gas and ventilation problems." -  Judge A. J. Goran, Report of Explosion at Appin Colliery

At approximately 11.00 pm on 24th July, 1979, a gas explosion in "K" Panel occurred during a preplanned ventilation change in that panel, resulted in the death of 14 employees.

A decision in early June had been made by colliery management that the two heading development known as "K" panel was to be increased to a three heading panel and driven by two continuous miners operating simultaneously. The rationale for this change was to better manage the ventilation of the adjacent longwall face. The centre heading would be on intake, the flanking headings on return air.

It was during the final phase of this ventilation change that the right hand heading was standing at 73 metres on brattice ventilation, an auxiliary fan had been connected to the preinstalled flume line and a new overcast across the centre heading linked the two returns.

A gas explosion during a pre-planned
ventilation change, resulted in the
death of 14 employees 

The evidence presented to the inquiry into the ensuing explosion held by His Honour, Judge A. J. Goran Q.C. strongly suggested that an explosive mixture of methane and air had built up in this right hand heading and was ignited by a flame travelling inbye via the flume line from the auxiliary fan site. The ignition source would appear to have been an electrical spark within the starter box for the auxiliary fan, the box at the time not being flame proof due to work being undertaken by an electrician at the site.

The first rescue team into the panel came across two men who, at great danger to themselves, were hosing down smouldering items and generally attempting to cool the area.

In the panel crib room the team located the bodies of ten men, some in sitting positions at the crib room table obviously in the midst of a meal. All of the men had ingested substantial quantities of carbon monoxide.

These ten men were Francis James Garrity, Jurgen Lauterbach, Alexander Hardie Lawson, Peter Andrew Peck, Roy Rawlings, John Leslie Stonham, Roy Williams, Garry John Woods, Geoffrey Ernest Johnson and Ian Victor Giffard.

The body of Mr. Brewin, the electrician was located some twenty metres from the fan, he had ingested a substantial quantity of carbon monoxide.

Mr Rawcliffes body was located in the shuttle car under a heap of miner cable and Mr. Staats, machine fitter, was located inbye the shuttle car. The body of Mr. Oldcorn, the Assistant Undermanager, was located in the afternoon of the 25th.

The report resulting from the inquiry made numerous recommendations and a press release by Mr Ron Mulock, Minister for Mineral Resources, stated that "The NSW Department of Mineral Resources plans to implement all recommendations of the Goran inquiry into the Appin Mine explosion".

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