On November 24, 1999, disaster struck underground at Northparkes mine in central New South Wales and the lives of four miners were lost.
Ross Bodkin 41, Michael House 33, Stuart Osmond 47 and Colin Lloyd-Jones 41, were killed instantly when millions of tonnes of ore and earth collapsed suddenly, leading to a catastrophic air blast through an access tunnel, where they were working 140 metres below the ground.
The force of the air blast was such that roof bolts and metal mesh were bent, motor vehicles destroyed.
An inquest into the incident found that Northparkes was the only underground mine in Australia using a method of ore extraction known as block caving. The technique consists of creating a void in the ground under a core of ore.
The inquest revealed the risk of air blast as a result of the sudden collapse of cavebacks was well known within the block cave mining industry.
“I find that the only reason the air gap void was allowed to become as large as it was on the 24th of November, 1999, was that North Parkes Mines maintained a production rate far greater than the rate at which the ore was falling from the caveback,” the findings from the inquest said.
“It is quite clear that the production rate took precedence over factors when concerned with the safety of those within the mine.”
The disaster has lead to mine’s safety procedures being some of the best in the world, with the Northparkes Mines Emergency Response Team winning the 2015 Victorian Mines Rescue Competition for the second year in a row in October.
Northparkes Mines honoured the four miners by naming two buildings after them as a permanent memorial of the tragic event, the Osman-Lloyd Jones Health and Training Centre and the Bodkin-House Emergency Response Centre.
Video: NSW Mining