It’s 1956, an early morning on August 8th. We are 975 meters deep in the coalmine Bois du Cazier (Marcinelle, Charleroi, Hainaut). It’s 08Hr15 in the morning. A 31-year-old experienced Italian cage loader Antonio Ianetta and his mate Gaston Vaussort are ready to load coal wagons into the arriving lift cage. By pushing the heavy wagon into the cage an empty one is pushed out on the other side. The empty wagon is defective and blocks the exit causing an obstruction on both sides of the lift.
All at once, the cage goes up to the surface with a speed of 150km/hour. Swept away in the shaft the outhanging mine wagon cuts two telephone lines, tearing off a compressed air tube, an oil line and two main electric wires of about 3.000 Volts each. This gave a short circuit, creating an enormous fire. All exits were closed very rapidly because of the high presence of the very dangerous gas. Vaussort died immediately and Ianetta was capable to escape using the second lift. A bit later seven more miners reached the same lift but only six of them reached the surface. Marceau Caillard stayed behind to ring the bell.
Lemaire mine lamp No. 14. It belonged to Joseph Van Woinsel (11/02/1923) and resided in Farciennes.
He was a superintendent at the deepest level and died on August 8, 1956.
Brev 662 could be a patent number of the lamp model.
The alarm went off, the rescue teams went down… The heat was too intense, and the smoke too thick. Only 13 miners succeeded to escape, among them Ianetta. It took another six days for the rescue teams to reach level 907 and only on 23 August the deepest level was reached.
Not the fire but the carbon monoxide was the deadliest factor because the gas was spread all over the complete mine by the air fans. It took several months before all miners were secured. That day, 262 miners lost their lives.
Production at Bois du Cazier started again in April 1957, few weeks after the last burials. The mine closed officially in January but still worked illegally until 1967. The shafts are closed and secured now and the mine is renovated to a historical heritage museum. The last survivor died in 1983 in Begijnendijk far away from this unfortunate mine.
The mine lamp pictured was from Joseph Van Woinsel one of the last recovered victims. He was superintendent at the deepest level and died like many more on August 8th, 1956. The burned deformed brick was found next to him. This rescue-worker was my uncle. I only remember his garden in Marcinelle were I played a lot in my childhood. I’m not sure about his name but I have all the reason to believe that this is Wits Alexandre, he lived at Avenue Eugène Mascaux 487 at Marcinelle.
Burned deformed brick collected near one of the last victims at the lowest level of the mine.
With gratitude to the Heritage Centre of Le Bois du Cazier: www.leboisducazier.be