South West Wales

Gleision mine deaths: Explosion 'like jet engine'

Gleision mining victims Image copyright South Wales Police
Image caption Garry Jenkins, 39, Philip Hill, 44, David Powell, 50, and Charles Breslin, 62, were killed in the mine

A mine manager has gone on trial over the deaths of four men in an explosion at a Swansea Valley pit.

Three men, including manager Malcolm Fyfield, 58, who denies manslaughter, escaped from the mine near Pontardawe.

David Powell, 50, Charles Breslin, 62, Philip Hill, 44, and Garry Jenkins, 39, died. MNS Mining also denies corporate manslaughter.

Swansea Crown Court was told the sound of the underground blast at the Gleision pit was "like a jet engine".

The trial has heard Mr Fyfield had been in charge of the mine for 10 weeks before the explosion in September 2011.

Opening the trial, the prosecution said the noise of the explosion in the drift mine near the village of Cilybebyll became deafening as water started to rush through the mine.

The miners shouted "run" as they tried to reach the surface.

Only three men made it out, including Mr Fyfield, who survived after crawling out through sludge and dirt, the jury was told.

Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Malcolm Fyfield denies manslaughter

The mine manager told emergency services that the four miners had "gone".

As he was being treated by paramedics he stated: "There is no hope for the others."

The jury has heard that two other men, as well as the four colliers who died, were assisting at the mine on the day of the explosion.

One of these two was only on his fourth day at work at Gleision - a drift mine cut into the side of a hill, where the coal seam is accessed by walking in.

Prosecutor Gregg Taylor said coal was extracted from the 100-year-old drift mine using explosives. Conditions were cramped, with the ceiling height at just 77cm, almost 20cm lower than a standard kitchen top.

Mr Taylor said: "Men worked this 2ft space by crawling on their hands and knees. It's not modern... with machines, tracks and trains. This is a very historical practice."

He told the jury that at about 09:00 GMT on 15 September 2011 a mine worker called David Wyatt told colleagues he was going to "fire the shots" to blast the coals from the seam.

Mr Taylor said: "They heard an explosion that sounded like a jet engine and their reaction was to shout 'run'."

The "deafening sound" of rushing water followed.

Mr Fyfield later told police what he had encountered when he was trapped inside the mine.

Image copyright Julia Quenzler
Image caption Mine manager Mr Fyfield still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, the jury has heard

The jury heard he found one of the four men who died, Mr Powell, and tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in a flooded stall with only 4in (10cm) of headroom.

Mr Taylor recounted Mr Fyfield's account of what had happened. "David Powell was showing no signs of life. It was not possible to get a pulse because of the debris around," he said.

About 16ft (5m) away, the manager then found a second miner, Philip Hill, "wrapped around a timber prop". He again tried resuscitation, Mr Taylor said, but the air he tried to breathe into Mr Hill's lungs came straight back out - suggesting that they were blocked with water.

With water levels rising fast, Mr Fyfield then escaped from the mine.

Mr Taylor told the jury post-mortem examinations found all the miners' lungs were blocked by water contaminated with coal and silt.

The jury has been told Mr Fyfield still suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident and will not sit in the dock for the duration of the trial.

He will require breaks and may need to leave the court on occasions.

Two directors of MNS mining also deny four charges of corporate manslaughter.

The trial is due to last until at least the end of June.

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