Wankie No. 2 Colliery Explosion

06/06/1972 - Wankie No.2 Colliery - Explosion / Gas Explosion, Coal Dust Explosion

At approximately 10:27 am on Monday the 6th June, 1972, a violent explosion ripped through the entire extent of the underground workings of No. 2 Colliery. Tremendous columns of smoke and gases poured out of all the shafts, mounting hundreds of feet into the atmosphere. The Kamandama fan was totally destroyed and the Bisa fan nearly so. The Kamandama incline shaft was completely blocked by falls of roof and twisted sreel girders.

The proto teams, working in relays, penetrated 2 000 metres into the míne among scenes of the most appalling devastation. Explosions were heard at frequent intervals and freely burning fires were encountered. In the end the rescue attempt was abandoned and Èhe teams withdrarnm. It had become obvious that nobody had survived the holocaust. 427 persons had died ín one of the greatest, underground explosíons ever known.

Eight men were pulled alive from the mine after the initial explosions. Two new explosions on 7 June poured clouds of poisonous gas into the 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) of tunnels, making further rescue attempts impossible.

On 9 June, the general manager of the Wankie colliery, Gordon Livingstone-Blevins, decided to leave the 423 bodies where they were. Three bodies had been recovered after the initial explosions. A mass memorial service took place on 11 June at a nearby football stadium, where a crowd of about 5,000 people paid tribute. "This has cast a gloom over the whole country," Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith said during the service

This accident claimed the lives of 427 people.

Other Information

A cable car was hurled like a giant cannonball from the No. 2 mine shaft of the Wankie Colliery in northwestern Rhodesia, burning a row of papaya trees before it came to rest 50 yds. away. That was the first sign of the disaster. An explosion, possibly emanating from a dynamite magazine, had devastated the major shaft of the mine that produced all of Rhodesia's coal. On or near the surface, four men were killed instantly. Hundreds of feet below, 426 miners —390 of them black, 36 white—were trapped amid rock and deadly methane and carbon monoxide fumes.

For 15 hours, rescue operations were tragically hampered by gases seeping from the minehead. Police urged a crowd of moaning African women to move out of range. Eventually the officers of the colliery, which is owned by the AngloAmerican Corp. of South Africa, decided to clear the shaft by pumping air in to push the fumes deeper into the mine; the decision permitted the rescue effort to begin but inevitably reduced the chance of finding anyone alive.

There was never any sign of life in the three-mile tunnel. Rescue teams listened in vain for "pipe talk," the tapping of men who have somehow found sanctuary in pockets of fresh air. On the third day, the mine's manager, Sir Keith Acutt, announced that all hope was lost, adding, a bit speciously, that indications were that the missing men had "died instantaneously and were not aware of what had happened." The final death toll is expected to exceed 430, making Wankie the fifth worst coalmining disaster in history. At the mine-head, the wailing of the African women continued.