Search for Survivors

Rescue workers on the surface at Moose River considering the best way to get trapped men from the mine.

When residents of Moose River heard the noise of a mine cave-in on a dark Sunday night, they rushed to the mine site. They found the entrance to the mine filled with debris and the ground around it collapsed. Attempts to clear the shaft found it solidly blocked.

Hope of finding anyone alive dwindled until whiffs of smoke drifted out of spaces in the rock and the unmistakable odour of a burning dynamite box signaled that someone was alive in the mine.

Rescue Efforts

Help came from all around and as far away as Ontario. Coal miners and draegermen arrived from Pictou and Cumberland Counties; hard-rock miners rushed from the neighbouring gold mining areas; trucks and trains brought timbers and equipment. The absence of plans for the mine and two more cave-ins hampered efforts and created uncertainty. The rescuers did not know quite where to look. Days passed.

Photograph of diamond driller Billy Bell holding a narrow steam whistle.

Diamond driller Billy Bell holding the narrow steam whistle he lowered into the slender hole he drilled to successfully contact the trapped men.

Photo courtesy of the Springhill Miners’ Museum

A New Approach Makes a Hero

On Thursday, Day 5, diamond driller Billy Bell arrived to try a different approach. Not knowing exactly where survivors might be, he drilled on a 62-degree angle and eventually broke through to the 141-foot level. Flares and blasts of a small steam whistle were sent down the narrow 120-foot long tubular hole. Only by hearing the blast could the survivors find the hole and the connection that gave them to the outside world. But there was no reply. He tried again and again. Nothing.

Photograph of mine rescue workers at the entrance to the rescue shaft.

Mine rescue workers working at the entrance to the rescue shaft at Moose River Mines, 1936.

N.S. Department of Natural Resources Historical Mine Photo Collection

People gave up and left the site. Despite persevering long after anyone else, Billy was about to stop when he heard tapping on a pipe underground. They were alive! The rescuers renewed their efforts to free the trapped men.