English Heritage ‘champions historic places and advises the Government and others on how to help today’s generation get the best out of our heritage and ensure it is protected for the future‘.
In the blog post above the photograph, English Heritage describes five sites added to the ‘at Risk Register’. One of those sites is Geevor Tin Mine at Pendeen in Cornwall. This was the site of an underground accident on 15 January 1980, when two miners were buried alive at the bottom of a narrow cavity. For their gallantry in the subsequent rescue attempt, Mr Stephen Ainsworth, a shift boss, and Mr Alan Brewer, a mine captain, were awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. The citation for their award read:
During the day shift on 15 January 1980, two miners were digging in the sides of an ore pile which had partially subsided, when there was a further major subsidence and they were engulfed and buried alive at the bottom of a narrow cavity.
Mr. Ainsworth and Mr. Brewer were the first officials at the scene and realised the very serious difficulties presented by the overhanging sides of loose rock on the exposed walls of fractured granite; by the narrow working area and, not least, by a mass of unsupported ore sticking between the walls of that working space which might fall at the slightest vibration. Access to the men, therefore, had to be achieved without disturbing the sides of the pile or the central hanging mass and, at great personal risk, they improvised an unorthodox means of descent. With the assistance of a timber spreader which they erected between the walls, they suspended a pulley used in conjunction with a winch on the level above. They were then lowered by this contraption on a wire rope into the hole where they quickly located the men, but were unable to uncover their faces. Mr Ainsworth, a trained rescue team member, immediately directed an oxygen supply into the rock pile to assist the trapped miners’ breathing. Mr Brewer and Mr Ainsworth then worked alone in the cavity and began to make timber barricades to prevent the rock pile shifting or falls of rock rolling down and further burying the men. The rope pulley and winch could not be used to lower more men because of the ever increasing instability of the overhanging rock wall. When a safer and better access had been established additional men then descended by the less precarious means of a steel ladderway and assisted in putting up the wooden casings. Eventually after more than twelve hours the trapped men were freed and, at the time of their release, the conditions were so cramped that there was insufficient room to lay them down and they had to be supported upright to be strapped into the stretchers. Both men were alive when released, but one unfortunately died almost immediately afterwards.
Mr. Ainsworth and Mr. Brewer displayed bravery and devotion to duty of a high order when, without regard for their own safety, they worked in dangerous and cramped conditions for many hours to bring about the rescue of the trapped men.
Both men feature among the 1,044 recipients of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in For Exemplary Bravery but I have very little other information about the incident, the casualties or the two rescuers. I would be pleased to hear from anyone who could add to the account of the rescue.
1. (Back) London Gazette: 13 February 1981. Issue 48522, p 2139.