Four men remain dangerously ill on ventilators in a Brisbane hospital with burns covering their torsos and inundating their airways after an underground explosion tore through a Moranbah mine in one of the state’s worst mining accidents in decades.
The men, aged 43, 45 and two aged 51, along with one other, 44, who was yesterday in a stable condition, were flown to Brisbane late on Wednesday after surviving the blast at the Anglo American owned Grosvenor mine.
The 44-year-old’s condition is continually improving, according to a spokeswoman from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
Wednesday’s accident is believed to have been sparked by a gas ignition on the long wall of the Grosvenor mine around 3.15pm.
The men were flown to Brisbane in a joint recovery effort by RACQ LifeFlight and the Royal Flying Doctor Service before they were taken to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
Four of the five men had to be placed into induced comas to travel.
One woman who assisted with critical care in the moments following the explosion has been hailed a “hero” for her efforts in keeping the men alive while waiting for the planes to arrive.
Senior medical officer Dr Deborah Simmons was coincidentally in the Moranbah area at the time of the blast.
Dr Simmons, an anaesthetist with Mackay HHS, had just left Moranbah Hospital after training staff for COVID-19 when heard there had been an explosion.
“It was just lucky that I was in the area at the time,” Dr Simmons said.
“As an anaesthetist myself I know that with facial burns and airway burns that the priority is trying to intubate these patients to make sure they’ve got a breathing tube down, otherwise their airways swell up very quickly.”
Dr Simmons said the men were calm at the hospital.
“They were just talking about the fact that they were in pain,” she said.
“I think the real heroes are the nursing staff that stepped up to a job that nobody should be confronted with and they did marvellously,” she said.
“It was this small rural hospital that has a two-bed emergency department that managed four patients that needed to be intubated and ventilated for three hours and had them ready for the retrieval teams to pick up.
“They are the ones that saved those people’s lives.”
Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham yesterday described Dr Simmons and the local nursing staff as “heroes for what they did.”
The explosion is one of the biggest events to rock the mining industry in recent years and comes just 15 months after Bradley Hardwick was killed at another Anglo American-owned mine in the Moranbah region.
Although a life-changing event for the five men and their families, the mining and energy president of the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union said it could have been much worse.
“There were literally hundreds working underground yesterday,” Stephen Smyth said. “Day shift is the most popular shift, and with the work going on it could have potentially caused catastrophic loss of life and damage to that mine.
“I hate to (say) they dodged a bullet – the five workers haven’t clearly – but certainly other workers have.”
“I have been with some of our team at the mine today. There is a great deal of shock and concern for our colleagues, and we are providing all the assistance we can,” he said. “Our focus right now is on supporting our injured colleagues and their families to ensure they have everything they need. Our injured colleagues are receiving the best possible care at the Royal Brisbane burns unit.”
Mr Mitchelson, who is in charge of the company’s metallurgical coal business in Australia, said a thorough investigation would take place.
“We will work through this step by step with the authorities to understand what went wrong, drawing on the best possible expert advice,” he said. “Our priority still remains the safety and the care of our people.”
It is the second serious incident to rock the region in recent months after Grosvenor’s sister mine in Moranbah North, also owned by Anglo American, had a roof collapse in January. No one was hurt.
Queensland’s chief inspector of coal mines Peter Newman said that safety concerns had been raised with the Grosvenor mine after an inspection was carried out last month.
“As in all inspections undertaken at mine sites, whenever you bring a fresh pair of eyes to an operation there are always either recommendations for improvements in certain aspects of the mine, or a directive in terms of the mine taking particular action,” he said.
He stopped short of suggesting the safety concerns were linked to the explosion.
“Until such time that the monitoring and analysis of gas readings determines that there is a safe environment for people to return underground, it’s premature for me to speculate what the nature and cause of this incident was,” he said.
Investigations into the explosion are expected to take months. The State Government is considering a board of inquiry into the incident.
Source: Courier Mail