Queensland miner didn’t realise he was still on fire after mine explosion

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Queensland miner didn’t realise he was still on fire after mine explosion

By Toby Crockford and Felicity Caldwell

As Queensland miner Wayne Sellars emerged from underground where a methane gas explosion had created a wall of “blue flame” that engulfed him and four colleagues, he did not realise he was on fire until one of his supervisors stopped him and patted him down to smother the flames.

Mr Sellars gave evidence at the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry in Brisbane on Wednesday, describing the initial shockwave at Grosvenor Coal Mine, 150 kilometres south-west of Mackay, as “like a cyclone”, before the second shockwave brought “blue flame ... like standing in a blowtorch”.

Coal miner Wayne Sellars gives evidence at the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

Coal miner Wayne Sellars gives evidence at the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Wednesday.Credit:Queensland Courts

The explosion occurred on May 6, 2020. Four miners were critically injured, the fifth was seriously injured. All were flown to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital for weeks of intensive care.

The mine, operated by Anglo American, was shut down in the immediate aftermath and closed again a month later after rising gas levels prompted fears of another underground explosion.

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In addition to his verbal testimony, Mr Sellars also provided to the inquiry a written statement.

In reference to the explosion, Mr Sellars wrote: “Almost instantly, I saw blue flame, which engulfed me for what must have been a split second but felt, at the time, like an eternity.”

“I tucked myself up as much as I could, closed my eyes and held my breath. I remember thinking to myself: ‘This is it. What’s on the other side?’ ” he said.

“I then thought: ‘F--- this, I’m not dying here.’ ”

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On Wednesday, Mr Sellars described walking out of the mine with his injured colleagues, despite suffering burns to 70 per cent of his body, in darkness after the first shockwave tripped the power.

“I was initially holding my breath after the flames went out, in my head, I was thinking about the potential gasses in the air, I ended up taking a breath, shoved [another injured coal mine worker] and just started yelling ‘go go go’. I could hear [a colleague] screaming behind me,” he said.

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Mr Sellars said as he reached the surface one of his supervisors told him to stop, to which he replied: “F--- off, I’m not stopping for anyone.”

The supervisor insisted. “You’re on fire,” he told Mr Sellars.

Mr Sellars was in the RBWH’s intensive care unit for three weeks and in the burns unit for six weeks.

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He told the inquiry he had 10 surgeries to date and would have at least three more. He had skin grafts on his hands, arms, shoulders, back, face and legs and was due to have an ear reconstruction.

Mr Sellars spoke of numerous methane gas level breaches before the explosion.

“We questioned what we would be doing to control the gas. We were just slowing it [the shearer machinery speed] down to keep the gas down and get the ventilation system working,” he said.

“We were never evacuated off the face ... we would just wait for the gas levels to drop … and keep busy while we waited.”

Mr Sellars also spoke of the lack of a CFMEU representative on-site and the way the contract workers, such as himself, were treated by mine management.

“Contractors are treated differently to the permanent workforce. With the permanent workforce, more of the boys speak up. We [contractors] got punished if someone injured themselves, we would lose our bonus and that breeds bad culture and gets everyone offside,” he said.

Anglo American Metallurgical Coal chief executive Tyler Mitchelson said the company paid close attention to Mr Sellars’ testimony and was continuing to improve safety at Grosvenor Mine.

“It is unacceptable that our colleagues were injured at Grosvenor Mine last May, and we acknowledge the life-altering impact this incident has had on them and their families,” he said.

The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry will resume in Brisbane on Friday.

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