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January 2003, revised march 2003
The Lofthouse Colliery Disaster
Lofthouse Colliery in 1973
It is thirty years since even miners were trapped in Lofthouse Colliery when the seam they were working on became flooded. A rescue mission went on for six days, one body was recovered but six were left behind.

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In 1973 800 men worked around the clock at Lofthouse Colliery in Wakefield bringing coal out of its rich seams. It was a dirty, dark dangerous job.

On the day of the disaster, March 21st, 30 men were working 300 feet down near old mine workings. Little did they realise that these had become a reservoir containing 3 and-a-half-million gallons of water.

Aftermath of disaster
The colliery workings after the ingress of the water

Checks had been made before work had begun in this area but a crucial Victorian geological notebook which could have revealed how deep these workings were was never seen.

Former miners remember that two to three weeks before the disaster water was trickling down the coal face but this was attributed to a test bore-hole.

The shift on March 21st started like any other. Miner Keith Stone remembers: "The ventilation just stopped. We got this eerie feeling that the ventilation had turned round. We got this awful smell and then within seconds a great wall of water came straight over the top of the ripping."

Rescue workers going towards pit
Rescue attempt - Day One

Survivor Malcolm Firth says the water "brought everything with it, boxes that weighed a ton and it was swilling them down the gate. It was swilling them all over the place."

Miner Tony Banks says: "It just felt as though somebody had pulled a big plug out. It went with such a force it just knocked us over."

Peter Wood was the Lofthouse Colliery surveyor in 1973: "It was not just water. It was slurry. It was like a thick sludge and that came in at something like 750 feet head of pressure."

Relatives wait for news at the pithead
Relatives wait for news

The miners took to their heels with the wall of water chasing them. When the roll call was taken seven men were missing. For the families above the ground the nightmare was just beginning.

The week-long attempt to rescue the men, trapped in an air pocket, grabbed the nation’s attention. The rescue effort brought help from far and wide and political enemies were amongst those who waited together.

Underwater rescue team walks to pit
The underwater rescue team enters the pit

Arthur Scargill, President of the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) reflects: "We were up against odds that I’d never encountered in my life. For example, we brought in specialist underwater teams of divers with very large aqualights in an attempt to try and go through the slime and the mud to try and see if any of the men were alive and, if so, get them back."


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