Tributes to 'well respected' miner


Click to follow

A miner who died when a roof collapsed in a pit was described today as a "highly-skilled and well-respected coalface worker".

Gerry Gibson, 49, died at Kellingley Colliery, North Yorkshire, yesterday after he was trapped in a rock fall.

Another miner, thought to be a close friend of Mr Gibson and named locally as Phil Sheldon, was rescued during a major emergency operation and suffered minor injuries.

UK Coal - the company which owns and runs the pit - said initial overnight investigations showed no obvious cause of the roof fall and the firm was, at this stage, "at a loss" to know why it happened.

Last night's incident came just a few weeks after the flooding of the Gleision Colliery in South Wales, which claimed the lives of four miners.

UK Coal Communications director Andrew Mackintosh said a full inquiry was under way at Kellingley with the Health and Safety Executive.

Outside the mine, near Knottingley on the North and West Yorkshire border, Mr Mackintosh paid tribute to Mr Gibson, who was a married father-of-two grown-up sons from North Yorkshire.

He said: "He was highly-skilled, highly-respected. As well as all that, he was a very close friend of most of the people who worked on the same shift as him.

"It's been a huge loss. It hits an industry like coal-mining far harder, I suspect, than many industries because of that close-knit approach.

"Gerry was a family man with a wife and two children and obviously our thoughts are with them at the moment.

"We know that there's a strong support network thanks to the mining approach to these things but we will do all we can to help them."

Mr Mackintosh said the initial inquiry had shown no problems with the coal seam or the equipment, which he said was almost brand new, costing tens of millions of pounds.

The rescued miner, Mr Sheldon, was well enough today to return to the colliery to help investigators piece together what happened.

He was rescued by his colleagues after he was trapped by his leg in the incident 800 metres underground.

Mr Sheldon is said to be deeply shocked by what happened to his friend and did not want to talk about it.

Also outside the pit, NUM general secretary Chris Kitchen said: "The workforce at Kellingley are a family in every sense of the word.

"They look after each other, they cover each other's back. And when anything like this happens, it just devastates everybody.

"I knew Mr Gibson. He came here in the back end of 2004 and I still worked here until 2007.

"Mr Gibson was an integral part of this mine. He was well respected by the team he worked with and by his other colleagues on other shifts. Everyone's devastated by what's happened."

Mr Kitchen added: "The pit will get through this. The pit will rally round Gerry's family.

"It's tragic what's happened and it should never have happened and the investigation will conclude what did go wrong."

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who is a local MP, visited the pit first thing this morning to talk to management and unions on her way to the Labour Party conference in Liverpool.

Ms Cooper, who is MP for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley, looked ashen-faced as she said: "All the people I've talked to this morning - the management and the unions and the workforce - everybody's just really shocked by what's happened but also thinking about the families involved. All of our thoughts must be with them this morning."

Local MP Nigel Adams, whose uncle worked at Kellingley for 20 years, said miners had performed "heroics" last night.

Speaking outside the pit, Mr Adams, who is Tory MP for Selby and Ainsty, said: "Very sadly this is the third death we've had here at Kellingley in four years and coming on the back of the Welsh tragedy it clearly resonates with people how dangerous an industry mining is.

"I understand the gentleman who lost his life is one of my constituents and so it's clearly a shocking thing."

The MP added: "It's worth pointing out that the two miners who were trapped's colleagues performed heroics in trying to rescue them. In fact they succeeded in getting out one of the miners. Sadly, one of the guys didn't make it.

"It's certainly worth pointing out the heroism of the fellow shift workers."

Last night, as the rescue was going on, family members who did not know if loved ones were involved gathered at the mine entrance, some of them in tears.

Some wept with relief when they were told by their grandparents that their father was safe.

UK Coal evacuated 218 workers from the mine last year after methane gas seeped into the area and ignited.

Ian Cameron, 46, died at the colliery after an equipment failure in October 2009. Another miner, Don Cook, died in a rock fall in the pit three years ago.

A memorial service to mark the third anniversary of Mr Cook's death is due to take place on Friday.

Kellingley is the largest remaining deep mine in Yorkshire.

Its two main shafts are almost 800 metres deep. Only one of them is used by miners, the other is used to transport coal.

It supplies local power stations and produces some household coal.