Nineteen men were killed when an explosion ripped through the state-run Strongman coal mine at Rūnanga, on the West Coast of the South Island, just after 10 a.m. An investigation concluded that safety regulations had not been followed and that a shot had been incorrectly fired.
Located just north of Greymouth, the Strongman mine (New Zealand’s largest underground coal mine) had enjoyed an impeccable safety record since its opening in 1939. All that changed in January 1967 when an explosion sent a fireball through a section of the mine. There were 240 men working in the mine at the time. A greater death toll was avoided only because the fireball hit a wet patch in the tunnel near the explosion. This caused it to slow and then extinguish itself.
Smoke and firedamp (methane gas produced by coal) made the search for survivors and bodies hazardous. When mixed with a certain level of air, firedamp becomes highly explosive. Those involved in the rescue were at constant risk of another explosion. Fourteen bodies were recovered on the day of the explosion. It took another three weeks to retrieve two more bodies. The tunnel was sealed off before the last two could be recovered. A number of the men involved in the rescue received the British Empire Medal for their bravery.
An inquiry into the disaster concluded that at least two mining regulations had been broken. The government was ordered to pay compensation to the families of the victims.
New Zealand’s worst mining disaster remains the explosion at Brunnerton on the West Coast in 1896 in which 65 were killed.