STILL GRIEVING: Peter Ein says he still has trouble sleeping.
STILL GRIEVING: Peter Ein says he still has trouble sleeping.

'We knew they were gone': Survivor relives mine blast

HE SURVIVED the 1994 underground coal mine explosion at the Moura No. 2 mine, however Moura local Peter Ein continues to suffer from the devastation of the tragedy and the loss of his family and friends whose bodies could not be recovered.

On Sunday, August 7, about 11pm, Mr Ein was in the 1 North West section of the mine with "a full crew”, he said, recounting the traumatic night's events.

The first explosion occurred at 11.40pm.

There were 21 men working in the mine at the time - 10 men including Mr Ein from the northern area who escaped within 30 minutes of the explosion and 11 workers from the southern area who did not escape.

Those who did not return included a crew of eight who were working in the 5 South section of the mine undertaking first workings for pillar development, and three others, a beltman and a sealing contractor with an assisting miner, who were also in the southern side of the mine.

Mr Ein knew when he eventually reached the top of the mine that his brother-in-law, 31-year-old Michael Ryan, remained trapped in the section where he had heard the explosion come from, further underground than where he had been.

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"The fellas that got killed were further down than us, and we were a fair way down.

"It took us over half an hour to drive out in two vehicles.”

He said he and the men he was with heard and felt the late-night explosion, initially thinking it was part of the mine's roof collapsing.

"We heard the explosion - we got picked up like rag dolls and thrown around. We couldn't see anything for the dust. Everything was pitch black. You couldn't even see the light from the top of your helmet.

"And while we were trying to get out, we had no phone service. It wasn't good.”

He said that including himself, about four of the men had Mines Rescue experience.

"We worked out how to get out ourselves. We went up top and everything up there was black. All the cars in the car park were black from coal dust.”

He knew that when the other men from the mine hadn't returned after about three to four hours "they were gone”.

"And the next day the gas levels were too high and it was still on fire.”

At 12.20pm on Tuesday, August 9, a second and more violent explosion sent a plume of black smoke into the sky, forcing rescue and recovery plans to be abandoned.

The mine was sealed at the surface and, Mr Ein said, "that was the end of it”.

"They brought the bulldozers in,” he said.

The population of Moura at the time was about 1500, and the tragedy brought the number of lives lost in three mine explosions to 36.

The first was the Kianga mining disaster at the Kianga No. 1 mine on September 20, 1975, claiming 13 lives. The mine was sealed and the bodies were never recovered.

The second was on July 16, 1986, when an explosion in the Moura No. 4 underground mine killed 12 miners, the youngest aged 18.

The bodies were recovered after this tragedy, which was thought to have been initiated by one of two possible sources, either frictional ignition or a flame safety lamp.

Mr Ein said the town has "done all right”, although the pain, loss and grief remain.

"I feel it every day. I have trouble still even sleeping now every night,” Mr Ein, who finished working for the mines in November 2013, said.