Natal, BC Coal Mine Explosion, Apr 1967
NATAL MINE EXPLOSION KILLS 15.
PALL OF GRIEF HANGS OVER 'PASS AREA.
Natal, B.C. -- Recovery of the bodies of two mechanics at 6 a.m. today brought to 15 the number of miners who were killed in the Balmer North Coal Mine operations of Crows Nest Industries here at 4 p.m. Monday.
Nine other miners are in serious condition in Crow's Nest Pass hospitals.
A preliminary inquest was called at 11 a.m. and adjourned after the victims were identified.
It was the worst mine disaster to hit Crows Nest Industries at Natal since its operations started here at the turn of the century.
The worst mine disaster in the area was at Fernie, 20 miles west, in 1902 when 125 lives were lost.
An explosion in the Balmer North mine just minutes after the 4 p.m. shift change rocked the entire villages of Natal and Michel and claimed most of the 15 lives immediately.
Rescue crews at the scene minutes after the explosion were able to get to most of the bodies. The last two bodies were found at 6 a.m. today after all night rescue operations.
The two had been working on the Monday day shift and were putting in overtime, when the explosion occurred. Their bodies were found about one-half mile from the mine entrance.
The bodies of the remaining dead and injured were found some 600 feet inside the mine and around the mine entrance.
A pall of grief and disbelief hangs over this community and the entire coal mining area of the Crowsnest Pass on both sides of the B.C. - Alberta border today.
In Natal groups of men stand in silence on the street corners, women walk in hushed groups carrying food between homes and children wait news of the loss of relatives and men they knew well.
THe company has six mines operating around the clock within a three-mile radius of Natal. They employ 500 men from nearby towns. The Balmer North mine is the company's second biggest and produces 400,000 tons of coal annually for export to Japan.
British Columbia Mines Minister Daonald Brothers went to the scene.
All but one of the dead men were married. This morning volunteer civic groups were organizing a fund raising project for the widows and families. The dead men lived in centres between Bellevue and Fernie. Michel-Natal mines and one near Coleman, 20 miles east, are the only ones operating now in the 'Pass.
There were reports that rock particles showered Natal immediately following the explosion. The mine entrance is located about 500 feet from the edge of the village. At the scene it was almost like a bomb hit.
Rocks, coal and dirt shattered buildings and other debris lay about in a 500-by-300 foot area on the mountain in front of the mine entrance. Mine buildings on the outside were literally uprooted and smashed to pieces in the blast. Trees were uprooted.
Few men are on the job today. The British Columbia mines department has men in the area. Mine safety inspectors are working and the Crows Nest Industries, owners of the mine, president and vice-president are on their way from Seattle to the site.
George Barnes, director of industrial relations for the company, said the disaster was the worst in the history of Michel-Natal mines.
Mine rescue crews worked continuously from the time of the blast until the last two bodies were found this morning. All hope that the remaining two men would be found alive was abandoned Monday night when rescue crews found a wall of poisonous gas in the entrace way in.
Air circulating equipment was installed until about 7 p.m. Crews continued their efforts until the men were found.
Mine rescue teams from the Cominco Mine in Kimberley and the British Columbia Civil Defence Emergency from Nelson were on the scene.
Jim Grocutt, an executive committee member of Michel-Natal Local 7292, United Mine Workers of America, said there must have been an accumulation of gas and dust in the year old mine.
This did not, however, constitute an unsafe mine, he claimed. A member of the mine safety committee, representing the workers, Mr. Grocutt, had made recent safety inspections. He said it is probably fortunate for the survivors that the ceiling of the mine was held up by bolts rather than with timbers.
Had there been extensive timbering in the mine it would have been "blown out" by the blast, constituting a great danger for the men.
Mr. Grocutt had been working in another mine on Monday and was not at the scene of the blast.
He could well have been there he points out, and considers himself a survivor of the disaster.
It is his second explosion. His first was in his native Wales. "Oh yes, I'll go back in. I like mininig. I don't see that the risk is that high. Most of the other men will go back in too. Possibly 10 won't go back, but I think the rest will."
Following is a list of dead and injured in Monday night's mine explosion at Natal, B.C.
RONALD FRENZ, 31, Coleman.
WALTER GIBALSKI, 54, Coleman.
WILLIAM DeLORME, 19, Coleman.
ERIC LUTZKE, 38, Fernie, B.C.
MIKE BRYAN, 65, Fernie.
JOHN BRENNER, 46, Fernie.
WALTER PARKER, 28, Fernie.
HUGH HOPLEY, 24, Fernie.
WILLIAM CYTKO, 42, Sparwood.
SAMUEL TOLLEY, 53, Elk Valley.
ANTHONY CEPELIAUSKAS, 65, Natal-Michel.
EUGENE LUCKY, 28, Natal-Michel.
ARCHIE WOJTULA, 42, Sparwood.
GUY VENZI, 58, Sparwood.
DELFIE QUARIN, 38, Natal-Michel.
In Michel Hospital suffering injuries received in the explosion are:
LARRY SAVILON, Michel.
GERRY CLARK, Coleman.
EARL PRICE, Fernie.
ROBERT BROWN, Fernie.
Patients in Fernie Hospital are:
IRVINE MITCHELL, Fernie.
HERBERT PARSONS, Fernie.
ARTHUR PARSONS, Fernie.
WILLIAM CORRIGAN, Fernie.
ROBERT CLEGG, Fernie.
Members of the crew not in the mine at the time of the explosion, a company spokesman said, were:
PETE ROTELLO, Fernie.
ALDO ZANRESSA, Natal-Michel.
HENRY FRANCE, Coleman.
HENRY HUTCHINSON, Fernie.
JOE NEWTON, Bellevue.
Lethbridge Herald Alberta 1967-04-04