Well here it is, the long awaited conclusion to Willow’s Big Adventure (except this obviously isn’t the conclusion as I’m still alive and life is still an adventure), so buckle up we’re a bumpy ride (who said that?)
Unfortunately we can’t escape a bit of house keeping and some boring background explanations. First the housekeeping: these are the links to the previous parts of the story Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 (I was tempted to really lay on the linky love and point to Stephanie’s post and let you find them from there ha! talk about linkage lunacy, actually I ended up using her post to get the links anyway, as it was quicker than searching for them myself – thanks Steph).
Secondly the background, unfortunately we can’t avoid a bit of technical crap so that you get a better picture of what happened…
The image on the left is a schematic of a headframe, the image on the right is a photo of real one very similar to the one we’re talking about, in fact this mine is close to where the story is set. If you’re interested the photo is from Kalgoorlie and the story is set in Agnew (Leinster if you google).
In the schematic you’ll notice two things, the big chimney which is part of the motor used to power the winder, and a rope that goes from the winder to the top of the headframe.
In our story there is no fossil fuel motor but instead a 3,000 volt electric motor about this size. The building that houses the motor, the winder (the drum that holds the rope) and the winder operator is called the winder house (go figure), and because everything is so much bigger than in the schematic it’s further away from the frame, that’s why you can’t the winder house in the photo. Still with me? Good. The company I worked for had installed the motor, but as yet it hadn’t been commissioned (gone through rigorous safety testing). This is important.
Now, on the end of the wire rope is a fifty ton bucket that is lowered down a vertical shaft to collect the diggings from the decline shaft (this is where reading the previous posts would be helpful). Obviously in order to take the weight of the bucket when full, the rope needs to be fairly robust. To try and give you an idea, just imagine a normal rope about a half inch in diameter…it’s made up of a whole bunch of strands that are wound into bigger strands which are then wound together to form a rope, there are thousands of strands making up the rope. Now imagine a rope who’s smallest strand is solid steel about a 1/4" thick with about a thousand of these wound into a rope about ten inches in diameter and very strong.
So now to the point( finally). The construction of the shafts went 24hrs a day with three 8 hour shifts. Each shift had a crew of 5 miners working the face, and a heap more driving dump trucks and doing other mine type things. At the end of the shift, the crew working the face would get into the bucket and they would be brought to the surface. As I said before the winder motor and associated controls had not been commissioned which meant that the bucket was not certified to carry people. There should have been overspeed and underspeed cutouts as well as sensors on the rope to alert the winder driver to it being either tight or slack.
One morning just as were arriving at the winder house to work on the installation, there was a really bad noise, actually there were a lot of really bad noises. So now all you guys that have been patiently waiting for the gore, here it is. What happened was the electric brakes failed and the winder driver was unable to stop the motor, so when the bucket reached the surface instead of stopping to let the miners out, it just continued to the top of the headframe (about 160ft). When it got there, the motor just kept pulling on the rope until finally it snapped (you don’t argue with 3Kv motors).
In the space of about 20 seconds the following happened: the bucket fell to the ground bouncing of the metal frame like a pinball and depositing body parts wherever it hit, leaving arms, legs, heads and bodies strewn over a 100ft radius. At the same time, the wire rope snaked back like a huge rubber band and left an 18" wide gash in the roof of the winder house, it also amputated the winder driver’s arm at the shoulder. All up it was pretty gory.
But to make matters worse (for me), you might recall that I injured my leg on that site, and while I didn’t miss any work, I did have to go to see the nurse every day to have my bandages changed to prevent infection (you might also recall that the burn was so deep it severed my calf muscle). Later that day when I went to the infirmary to get my leg seen to, I discovered where they were keeping all the body parts.
There, now wasn’t that better than a goofy old contest? Thank you Robin, Karmyn and Stephanie for keeping at me to finish this. Mind you the adventure didn’t end here, I left the mine and flew to Bali, and then spent the next six months traveling through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand using only local transport (buses, trains and ferries). But you don’t want to hear about that.
Filed under: Anecdotes |