Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968


Twelve men who were being lowered down No. 2 shaft at the Waihi mine shortly after 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon had a remarkable escape from death when the cage in which they were descending broke away and hurtled several hundred feet down the shaft until it came to rest just above No. 13 level, about 1,450 feet below the surface. Had the cage gone on unchecked to the bottom of the shaft the impact would have been terrific and not an occupant could have survived. All twelve were injured, but none was critically hurt.


William J. Taylor, 47, compound fracture of right leg and fractured left leg.

John H. Gordon, 51, fractured leg, ribs and possibly spine.

Herbert W. Butler, 26, compound fracture of right leg.

William R. Kemp, 23, fracture of right leg; injury to right knee.

Ray W. Johnson, 35, fracture of right wrist.

Harry G. Cornes, 24, concussion and scalp wounds.

Samuel Hamilton, 48, lacerated foot; possibly fracture of foot.

Leonard J. Coward, 44, fracture of left leg; injured right foot.

Cyril F. Thornton, 25, injuries to both feet; possible fractured rib.

John Arnold, middle-aged, and Jack Follas, 23, minor injuries.

Mr. H. Mills, who was in charge of winding operations at the time of the accident, was admitted to the hospital suffering severely from shock. In addition to those injured in the falling cage, Mr. E. Shergold, who was ascending in the cage in the adjoining compartment of the shaft, received leg injuries.


News that there had been a serious accident at the mine soon spread, and it was at first thought that several fatalities had taken place. It was not long before hundreds of anxious people gathered round the top of the shaft to await the bringing up of the injured. Weeping women and girls, fearing the worst, were among the number, and it was not until 6 o'clock that they received the unofficial but reassuring news that there had been no fatalities. A few minutes later the first of the men, Mr. John Arnold, was brought to the surface. He was able to step out of the cage unassisted, and as he did so he was greeted by relieved cheers, and the crowd felt easier when he said that none of his fellow-workers had suffered any grave injury. Others followed at intervals, the last man being brought up shortly before 8 o'clock.

Despite the assurance of Mr. Arnold, the tension was not definitely relieved, however, until a message was received from the rescue party, (headed by the mine manager, Mr. J. L. Gilmour, and the assistant mine-manager, Mr. W. Morrison), which had made its way through from No.4 shaft, about 500 feet from where the cage crashed in No.2. It was then found that the cage had come to a stop between the No.'s 12 and 13 levels, about 300 feet from the bottom workings. The cage was suspended about 30 feet above No.13, and the members of the party had to make their way up the ladders, lift the hood of the cage, pass the men out through the side into a "bosun's chair", and lower them down to No.13, where Drs. L. R. Hetherington and E. H. Bridgman, with stretcher-bearers, were waiting to attend to the injured.


After being tended by the doctors, who were given every assistance by members of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the victims of the accident had to be carried out on stretchers via No. 6 shaft, to No. 4, a journey of approximately a quarter of a mile. When they arrived at the brace (top of the shaft) eager crowds sought their names and the nature of their injuries and although some of the rescued appeared to be in sorry plight, with their blood-smeared limbs and faces, all seemed to recognise and greet their friends. Some, despite their injuries, were even facetious, and one young man, being carried pick-a-back to the dressing shed, waved to the crowd as he puffed at his cigarette. Another, one of the worst hurt, on reaching the dressing shed, called for a drink. He was handed a glass of water, but asked with wry face, "Haven't you got anything stronger than that, mate? It won't help much". This remark was typical of the spirit in which the men accepted their misadventure.

Asked what his feelings were as the cage was falling, one man said:

"We had no time to think. She went with a bang, and all I know is that I felt lucky to be alive when she pulled up. I think my mates felt the same way". Workers at levels between that at which the cage broke loose and that at which it came to rest, state that they heard a terrific roar, and that candles in the levels were extinguished by the draught created.


Questioned as to the cause of the mishap, the superintendent of the Waihi nine, Mr. H. W. Hopkins, stated that all that could be said at present was that a start was being made to wind the men down. One cage was going up at the same time. The down cage carried 12 men and for some reason not yet ascertained broke away and did not come to rest until it reached a point 30 feet above No. 13 level, a distance of 1,450 feet below the surface. He thought the cage broke away from the vicinity of No. 5 level, 500 feet from the surface, and considered it must have fallen at a terrific speed, slowing before it came to a halt. Had it stopped suddenly the jolt would have been sufficient to kill the men. It had been suggested that the cage caught the end of a flat sheet and that eased the fall and caused the loops to loosen and the grips to part. The whole circumstances, added Mr. Hopkins, would form the subject of an exhaustive enquiry, but for the moment no further information could be given.

[see also Journal 21: Reunion Memoirs - E]