Gleision tragedy one year on: 'We stayed hopeful, even after finding the first miner's body'
THE Mines Rescue Service were the first people into Gleision searching for the trapped miners. JASON EVANS meets the man who led the operation
WHEN the phone rang at the Mines Rescue Service headquarters on the morning of September 15 2011 it was the start of a desperate underground search which made headlines and touched hearts around the world.
Within minutes the Dinas-based service was assembling two teams of mines experts and heading for the Swansea Valley.
For the next 30 hours the brigadesmen and officers of Mines Rescue were at the centre of the search for the trapped men — a search that eventually turned into a recovery operation.
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Mines Rescue operations manager Mark Tibbott said: "It was just a normal day when we got the call — it came from the fire service, which was unusual because the call normally comes from the mine itself.
"I began assembling the men, a mix of permanent and part-time brigadesmen, and we met at the mine.
"When we got to Gleision the fire service were already there and had set up a command and control centre.
"We studied the mine plans for the levels underground, and then I deployed my men."
The brigadesmen went into the darkness of the main drift of Gleision, into conditions Mr Tibbott described as "horrendous" — restricted space, water, thick silt and littered with debris — to search for the miners and to assess the water levels and flows.
They went as far as the flooded section of the mine and could find no trapped men, so withdrew and tried an old entrance — known as the "top road" — where low levels of oxygen meant they had to use breathing apparatus.
Mr Tibbott said: "We established there were no men trapped on the entrance sides of the flood.
"From studying the plans we were pretty confident there were levels in the mine which would have avoided the flood and would still be dry — if the miners had made it to one of them, there was a chance they would have survived."
A major pumping operation then got underway, using equipment from the Mines Rescue Service, the other emergency services, and pumps brought in from local hire companies.
"We were pretty upbeat that we would find the miners alive," he said.
"Even when we found the first miner, who was separated from the rest, we were hoping to find the others alive.
"When we had pumped out the water we did find dry areas in the mine.
"If the men had survived, we would have found them and got them out.
"A tremendous amount of water flowed though that mine, picking up everything along the way — coal, timber, debris, silt was all washed down the mine.
"The conditions were horrendous.
"It was the circumstances that killed the men."
The Mines Rescue teams spent 30 hours at the scene of the disaster, until the bodies of the four men had been recovered.
Twelve months on, Mr Tibbott says the Gleision disaster is still in his thoughts.
"I find it hard to belive it was a year ago, it has gone so quickly. They say time is a great healer, but I still think about it."