After more than 30 hours of waiting, it was the terrible news the families had dreaded but in their hearts had begun to expect. All four men trapped deep underground in the Gleision colliery high in the Swansea Valley had been found dead.
They died, as they worked, close together, discovered within a few metres of each other in the old, cramped mine.
Peter Hain, the local MP and shadow Welsh secretary, who had spent hours with the family as they waited, said: “Extraordinary courage was shown by the families right through the night, tortuous hours of waiting. We can’t imagine what they have been through.”
He said the tragedy had reawakened old memories. “This has been a stab right through the heart of these local communities. There’s a long tradition of mining here but nobody expected the tragedies of past generations would come today.”
Police and safety officials promised to establish how and why the four miners were killed. Forensic teams were at the mine in the village of Cilybebyll beginning to piece together what happened. The four – Charles Breslin, 62, David Powell, 50, Phillip Hill, 45, and Garry Jenkins, 39 – were trapped after water poured into the shaft they were working in on Thursday morning. Three others, including Powell’s son, Daniel, managed to get out and raise the alarm.
Families waited for news at a community centre close to the mine. But in the early hours of they were told a body had been found in a flooded shaft. At that point it could not be identified, leaving all four families wondering if it was their loved one.
Rescuers managed to pump water from the tunnel and hack through a rockfall, hoping to find the three remaining miners alive. Firefighters with 30 years’ experience said they had never worked in such bad conditions. But at lunchtime a second body was found and by mid afternoon the third was discovered. Rescuers said they had not heard or seen any sign life but continued to search the network of tunnels looking for the fourth miner. His body was discovered at teatime.
The attention of the authorities will now focus on finding out what caused the tragedy. Police and the Health and Safety Executive have already launched parallel inquiries. The prime minister, David Cameron, said: “In due course we must ensure we fully understand and learn from the causes of this accident.”