A miner’s true story | Part 1: The empty chair
It was just another day at the mine. Little did I know that my trip to the mine, the morning lineup, the faces, the voices, the laughter, the steps taking me underground that day, were potentially my last memories.
Underground, I had finished a task earlier than expected and decided to walk down a drift to a quite spot I had in mind. I planned to call my buddy to pick me up from there. I grabbed my gear and started the journey along the drift. I was fully loaded. Both my hands were full, and I was carrying some other things as well. After turning a corner, I noticed there was mucking activity taking place ahead. A truck was waiting to be loaded and a scoop was in motion. It was dark out there, and it was hard to determine if the scoop was coming in my direction or moving away from me. As a safety precaution, I started to shine my headlamp light towards the cab of the scoop operator. Suddenly, the scoop stopped. Thinking that the operator had seen me, I continued walking. I passed by the draw point from where mucking was taking place. When I reached the second corner of the draw point, the scoop started to move forward. The investigation later showed that, while I was shining my light at the scoop, the operator was backing up, looking in the opposite direction from where I was. He did not see me coming towards the scoop.
I was not expecting the massive piece of equipment coming within inches of me. The worst nightmare in my life started to unfold. I was petrified, standing in the corner of the draw point. The side of the scoop hit me sending me down to the floor of the drift. Surrounded by a massive tire on one side, the wall of the draw point on the other side, and a pile of rock ahead, it appeared to me that my life was about to end. There was no chance to turn back time a minute or two and bring me back to that moment when the prospect of my life was still shining. Life has no rehearsal. There I was, on a cold floor, surrounded by rock, metal, and rubber, and the horrendous sound of rocks falling into the scoop bucket. I felt reduced to the minimum a human being can be reduced. I was hopeless, helpless, completely alone, scared, and about to depart from this world in a very tragic way.
I did not realize the magnitude of what was about to happen until the image of my wife popped up in my head. Afraid of abandoning her and my kids in such a horrific way, I screamed a dreadful “noooo.” It was my last hope that God will hear my voice and spare me this time. My wife was waiting for me to return home, just like every other time after work. I had miserably failed her, my kids, and my siblings. I failed my parents and friends as well. It is not fair to do that to the people we love the most. To the people who rely on us. To those who say good-bye to us when we leave for work and are certain that we will come back to them.
The scoop suddenly stopped. It gave me a moment of peace. But it did not last long as the scoop started to back up. There was a chance that the bucket will crush me against the floor or the wall. Death was still laughing at me. It seemed determined to take me away without any compassion.
Just when I was about to surrender my life, I looked up and saw the screen on the wall. A light of hope warmed me up again. I do not remember how I did it, but in a split second I was climbing up that wall. My mind and body were in survival mode. I did not feel the weight of my body. I did not feel any pain in my hands while holding up to the rigid metal. In an instant, I was up near the roof of the drift, watching the scoop backing up to the drift intersection.
Once the scoop stopped, I descended as fast as I climbed. I reached out for my hand flashlight to signal my location. The flashlight was gone, and my hard hat had been crushed under the tires with the cap lamp on it. My radio disappeared leaving behind just the microphone hanging from my coveralls. I was in a state of shock, physically and mentally.
The scoop operator did not even know that I was there. I was in his blind spot, and chances are he was going to come back for more muck. There have been scoop accidents where the victim was cut into pieces by metal and rock. It was terrifying to think that in a few seconds I could be torn into pieces. Without being able to communicate with the scoop operator I had the feeling that I was about to become another statistic.
Thankfully, I remembered a little flashlight I always carry in my pocket for emergency situations. I always make sure that it is fully charged before heading underground. It paid off being diligent with that little flashlight. It literally saved my life because I was able to signal to the operator about my presence.
The scoop operator came out of his cab and was in shock. He was very disturbed, and feeling sorry for what had happened, but it clearly was not his fault. I had failed him as well. He was just doing his job and had no idea that a person was trapped in the draw point. As soon as he saw me, he wanted to go to call supervision. He was the only other person at the scene, and I asked him to stay near me for a moment as I needed another human being to hold to. The operator hugged me and comforted me. It was only then I started to realize that I was alive. What just happened was surreal. I had been cornered by death and miraculously escaped from its claws.
After supervision arrived, I witnessed firsthand my company’s emergency system in action. I felt blessed to work in a mining company where a distressed employee is treated with so much care. I was rapidly taken to the shaft, which was ready for me. I sat in a wheelchair and was taken to surface while receiving first aid and care the entire time. On surface, an ambulance was ready for me, and I was in a hospital within minutes. The attention from the doctor and nurses helped me restore my awareness and I was ready to keep rocking. Thankfully, I came out of this incident with only minor scratches.
I did not realize the magnitude of what was about to happen until the image of my wife popped up in my head. Afraid of abandoning her and my kids in such a horrific way, I screamed a dreadful “noooo.”
After the incident I promised to myself that I will never tell the story to my wife and my kids. I already did enough by failing them that day. I do not want them ever to think about the horror I went through. I promised myself that I will always do everything in my power to come home safe after work. This promise is keeping me safe every day and is aligned with what my family and friends expect from me.
It is late in the afternoon after work and my wife, and I are enjoying supper. She is telling me what happened during the day while she was at work. I like listening to her stories, her complaints, her joys and all those little things that life is made of. Suddenly it hits me: what if I had died that day in the mine? What if the chair where I am sitting was empty? The thought of my wife sitting alone, overwhelmed by deep sadness, looking at that empty chair, almost makes me cry. But I need to stay strong for I promised myself that she will never know what happened to me that day at work. I just keep smiling and listening to her, pretending like nothing had happened.
This article is Part 1 of this story. Part 2 will be published in February/March issue.