Lightning Ridge Mines Rescue Unit
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As we have said, the Lightning Ridge State Emergency Service has a unique task and that is to provide a Mines Rescue service to the opal mining industry in the Lightning Ridge Area. The type of incidents that occur in the Opal mining industry in Lightning Ridge vary greatly, but the most common type of incidents are cave-ins, where a section of the mine collapses either trapping or crushing miners, and incidents where a person has fallen down an open mine shaft, suffering injuries and requiring rescue.

To have an opal mine a miner needs to peg a claim (50 metres by 50 metres) at a location where opal might be found, register the claim with the Department of Mineral Resources and pay the required fees. A vertical shaft is then sunk down to where the opal bearing dirt is, this can be up to 35 metres below the surface. There are purpose built drills that can be hired to sink this shaft (approx 900mm or 3 feet in diameter). After sinking the shaft to the opal bearing dirt or level, the miner searches for the opal by digging a drive or drives outwards horizontally within the claim boundaries. Sometimes large areas known as "ball rooms" are opened up underground as the opal dirt is removed.

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Accidents do happen and sometimes, in unstable areas, for a number of reasons, a section of the roof and/or wall of the drive may collapse. Occasionally a miner may be working underneath the area that collapses and may be seriously injured or killed.

The main reason for our existence is to attend to these types of incidents, gain access, search and find the injured miners, assist Ambulance Officers in gaining access to and treating their injuries, and to extricate them from the mine swiftly and safely so they can be taken to a medical facility. This involves a considerable amount of equipment and often a lot of hard and dangerous work.

We gain access to the mine area in our Rescue truck, determine the best approach to the area the miners were last seen or heard to be working, utilise the nearest mine shaft, construct a suitable haulage system using rope, decenders, a rescue mate and larkins frame and lower a team into the mine. SES11.jpg - 14642 Bytes

SES13.jpg - 17708 Bytes The rescuers are lowered into the mine. Depending on the situation the rescuers may be required to wear breathing apparatus and test for poisonous gasses such as carbon monoxide. The shaft is a potentially dangerous area due to the depth and instability of the shaft wall, helmets are worn at all times when underground.

When the rescuers deem the air to be safe they search for the miners. This may involve a considerable amount of searching as often adjoining mines join up at the boundaries. In some areas tunnels and drives connect allowing you to travel kilometres under the ground. The miners may be buried completely, partially, or just trapped by a wall of dirt. When the miners whereabouts are known the rescuers go about uncovering them, or digging them out. SES12.jpg - 19243 Bytes

SES06.jpg - 21426 Bytes Ambulance Officers are lowered down the shaft to assess the miners injuries and provide life saving treatment before they are moved. The majority of injuries from mining accidents involve damage to the spine. Special precautions must be taken and special equipment used to prevent further damage to the spine. Miners often suffer serious life threatening injuries.

The injured miner is placed in a stokes litter or basket stretcher and tied in securely in preparation for the extrication from the mine. SES17.jpg - 19301 Bytes
SES14.jpg - 18723 Bytes Working underground often involves difficult physical work in a confined space. Not everyone is suited to this kind of work.

The injured miner is moved along underground drives horizontally, but unfortunately the miner has to be removed from the mine in a standing position due to the narrow vertical shaft. The miner is securely lashed into the litter. SES07.jpg - 21233 Bytes

SES08.jpg - 14675 Bytes As the miners are being treated and prepared for extrication to the surface, the rest of the rescue team prepare the haulage equipment and prepare to pull the miners to the surface.

The injured miner, now tied into a stokes litter is carried along the drives back to the vertical shaft where he will be extricated to the surface. SES16.jpg - 19694 Bytes

SES18.jpg - 19319 Bytes The stokes litter is attached to the end of the hauling rope (rescue mate), which runs up the shaft to the surface and is attached to the larkins frame. The rescuers above will pull on the rope and the injured miner will be hauled to the surface.

As the injured miner is raised to the surface, the larkins frame is "luffed" back (pivoted on its base so the head lifts up and away from the shaft) to bring the miner and the stokes litter out of the shaft. SES10.jpg - 13346 Bytes

SES09.jpg - 14971 Bytes A thankful miner is brought up from underground.

The injured miner is now left in the care of Ambulance Officers to be transported to a health facility to receive medical care. SES02.jpg - 21600 Bytes


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An average of three mine accidents occur each year in the Lightning Ridge area. Despite suffering serious life threatening injuries most survive these accidents to return and continue their search for the black opal. Unfortunately, many miners have been killed over the years as a result of mining accidents and collapses in the Lightning Ridge area. If you are fortunate to visit the Lightning Ridge area, when visiting the opal fields, be on the lookout for open mine shafts and keep a close eye on children and you will be sure to enjoy your stay.


These photographs were taken from a range of real and practice mines rescue operations in and around the Lightning Ridge area. No real patients or victims appear in these photographs. The patient used in the photographs taken underground is a member of the Unit and was not injured at the time.
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Last Update Pre 2006