The Valleys – Big John’s Mine
Deep within Big John’s Mine and without any warning, an overhead timber support beam in one of the mine’s tunnels gave an almighty crack and started to bow under the weight of the rock ceiling. The miners deep within the mine, had been driving a new tunnel. Tsomo the lead miner, quickly ran to inspect the sagging beam. It was cracked right in the centre and looked like it would give way at any moment.
Tsomo: Hurry! We need to get more support under this beam!
Even as the miners hurried to get the emergency screw jacks – long adjustable metal support poles – it was too late. There was another almighty crack, the beam splintered in two and the whole roof of the tunnel started to cave in.
Tsomo: Watch out! Run for it!
The miners scrambled as quickly as they could further up the tunnel. Once the noise and dust had subsided, the worst fear of any underground miner was realised. Their only exit from the tunnel was now full of fallen rock.
Tsomo: Is everyone OK? Anyone hurt?
Makai: Yeah Tsomo – we’re ok – but Dema has a pretty bad gash on his head, the others are patching him up.
Tsomo: Right. Let’s stop and assess the situation. We need to check what supplies we have – especially food and water. Work out what resources we have available to us. It could take a while to get us out, so let’s not make the situation worse by guessing.
Tsomo, as section lead quickly took charge, organising the miners into teams of two, some to start clearing what rubble they could from their end, two to check on supplies and consumables, with others assigned to tend those who were hurt. The biggest problem was going to be the consumables, food and water – they had some but it would need to be rationed carefully.
Twelve miners were trapped – all alive – for now.
Right across the valleys the fire sirens rang out – not the usual up and down tone, but this time it was a continuous long wail, indicating an incident at the mine and an all paws call for help. It did not take long for the valley inhabitants to heed the call and make their way in their pick-up trucks and assorted vehicles to arrive at Valley High School, the designated emergency staging point.
The valley mine rescue team quickly set up a command centre in the high school gymnasium. Altai, who was the designated mine emergency coordinator, addressed those who had assembled.
Altai: Around 1 hour ago we experienced a ‘mine bump’ that is where the downward pressure of the upper strata – the overburden, becomes too great and it causes a seismic jolt, leading to an explosive and sudden collapse of the tunnel beneath.
We have begun the following assessment:
Altai began to write on the whiteboard
- Known – complete roof cave in / tunnel blockage – section C-3.
- Known – Tsomo’s section, total 12 – working in tunnel beyond cave in.
- Known – miners cut off beyond main ventilation shaft at point B-2.
- Hopeful – sufficient natural air from existing strata cracks and fissures.
- Unknown – extent of cave in.
- Unknown – number of injuries or casualties.
- Priorities – establish communication link.
- Assess time and equipment needed to reach miners.
- Begin recovery of the C-3 tunnel.
- Safely rescue miners.
Altai paused and surveyed the room. He was met with a set of grim, yet determined faces all ready to do what was needed.
Altai: Asha, we will need you to coordinate getting the kits home with their parents or keep them safe here. Some of the trapped miners have kits here in the school – they’ll need to be cared for here at the school.
Thar, we will need you and the school bus to shuttle rescue teams from the mine back here to the school.
Asha: We have two students here with trapped fathers. Ounce and Chewie – their fathers are Makai and Dema. There will be a couple more from the lower grade school. I’ll coordinate with the teachers there and make sure that they are cared for.
Thar: Tha’ bus is in good shape – Gazza did a grea’ job fixin’ up tha’ brakes. I’ll be outside at the bus when you need me.
Asha hurried off with her tasks and Thar trotted off to check over his beloved bus.
Altai: Tenzing, can you coordinate with the mine manager – we are going to need that full assessment with projected time frames as soon as possible. We also need to get phone lines set up between the mine and the command centre, with two-way radio as a back-up.
Tenzing: You got it Altai. I’m on it.
Altai: Gazza – we will need you to coordinate machinery – we’ll need your small excavator and your dump truck straight up.
Gazza: Can do! I’ll get that gear back over here toot sweet!
Tenzing left to drive up to the mine to get the latest situation report and organise the radio equipment. Gazza headed back over the the ridge to load up his small excavator on his old blue dump truck. Altai delegated other remaining tasks to the rest of the assembled rescue team.
With the initial rush of activity over, there was a moment for Altai to pause and collect his thoughts. There were no good options. Depending on the extent of the cave in, it may take several days to dig through the rubble, safely shore up the tunnel and reach the trapped miners. He knew they only had limited food and water. He could only hope that there was enough air. There may be injured to deal with or worse – dead. They needed to establish communications.
The school was beginning to empty of students as parents arrived to pick them up. Jaak and Tag came over and sat at the picnic tables outside the gymnasium – now command centre, as both their Dad’s were busy with the emergency response. At another table sat Ounce and Chewie, all their usual swagger gone, looking like the stuffing had just been beaten out of them.
As time wore on, the boys watched as people came and went from the command centre. Jaak and Tag sat at their table knowing that they shouldn’t get in the way. After a while Tenzing arrived back with a load of radio gear. He saw the boys sitting at the picnic table and beckoned them over.
Tenzing: Hey Jaak! Tag! – com’n help me with this radio gear – we gotta set up a link up to the mine, we’re having trouble with the phone lines again so we’re back to the good old airwaves!
Jaak and Tag eager to do something useful, ran over to Tenzing and began to help him unload the radio gear from the back of the pickup.
Tenzing: We need to set up a directional narrow beam tranmitter, that will give us the best signal up to the mine.
Tenzing pointed his paw towards what looked like a tangled mass of metal struts and cables.
You two can help me put all this together – after all Jaak – you are the valley steampunk engineer!
Working together Tenzing, Jaak and Tag got the aerial set up, pointed it in the right direction, and cables run into the gym command centre.
There was a sudden commotion outside as a red dune buggy came flying across the hot creek ford, sending curtains of water in all directions, it continued up the road and rounded the corner at top speed, stopping with a screech in the school parking lot. The driver complete with wide toothy grin, poked his head out of the open side.
Layan: Hooyaa! How can I be of assistance?
Tenzing: Just the cat we need! Can you set up and operate the command centre radio here, – I’ll get on up to the mine portal and finish the set up of the second radio there. Once you’re ready, standby on channel 16.
With that Tenzing jumped in his truck and headed back up to the mine. Layan turned to Jaak and Tag.
Layan: Well then lads – lets get this radio inside and set up.
The radio did not take long to set up, and they tuned it to the correct channel to await Tenzing’s call. Before too long there was a crackle and hiss of white noise and they could hear Tenzing calling through.
Tenzing: This – hiss-is – hiss – crackle – calling comm… – burble – how -crackle- read – over.
Layan: Portal this is command – we are reading you loud but not clear – making adjustments – over.
It took a few minutes of aerial and radio adjustments for both stations to get ‘loud and clear’ transmissions but eventually they succeeded. Layan was grateful to have Jaak and Tag who kept running outside to make fine adjustments to the directional aerial.
Tenzing: Command this is portal – state readiness to receive mine status update – over.
Layan: Go ahead portal – emergency controller is standing by to take your report – over.
Tenzing: Mine manager reports;
1. No further strata movement – cave in appears stable.
2. Access tunnel section C-3 totally blocked.
3. Estimate 7 days to dig out and shore up tunnel.
4. Estimate miners have 3 days food and water.
5. Communication has not been established with miners.
6. Status of miners is unknown.
Tenzing clicked off from his report and the radio and the room fell silent. Altai looked around the room.
Altai: Well people we have a problem to solve. Assuming our miners are alive and well behind the cave in we need to figure a way to get access to provide air, communications, food and water. I am open to ideas.
Jaak and Tag had stayed with Layan, during Tenzing’s radio report and even Ounce and Chewie had crept into the back of the room to listen in, anxious to find out what was going on and they were whispering their own thoughts between themselves.
No good ideas seemed to be forthcoming, or at least ones that might have a chance of working. Using dynamite was quickly ruled out.
It was then only after a long silence that was becoming a little awkward, that one small voice from the most unexpected person in the room spoke up.
Tag: Um… Altai? I can get in. I know how to get into the back of the mine.