It was not even a year since he got married. Twenty-five year old Roger Cortes again sensed the familiar feeling of nervous excitement in his stomach as he thought of his 18-year old wife, now nine-month heavy with their first child. She's due anyday now. Roger wondered when Flor will deliver and how their baby, who he hoped would be a boy, will look like. If the baby took afer him, the child would have his rugged good looks, his curls-and-waves of hair, his penetrating eyes, and perhaps, even his temperament.
He felt cold. His thoughts were momentarily interrupted by a gust of wind the chilly night has blown from outside the window of the service bus into his face. The company bus would bring him and other workers from the mine's main gate to the underground mine site which was about a 15-minute ride away. He remembered that it rained heavily during the day. The weather, he thought, must have affected his mood.
His body felt unusually heavy. A few hours ago, his father must have noticed his weary look for he advised him to skip going to work that night. But Roger brushed off his tired and heavy feeling as just a result of a downcast mood. So he forced himself to work. He sat silently in the service bus now, wholly unsuspecting of a tragic fate that awaited him. He was on 3rd shift duty and it was a little before 11:00 pm of May 16, 1990.
Together with his co-workers, Roger reported to the foremen's quarter in Level-600 to receive his job instructions. He was usually assigned in 28N stope but tonight was given a different assignment. Another mucker who's regularly assigned in Level-450 was on a 3-day sick leave so Roger was asked to relieve him temporarily.
Roger's partner would be a 31-year old miner, Charlito. He saw no problem working wih the guy as he had worked with him several times on similar occasions before. With their cap lamps and tools, Roger and Charlito walked toward their job site at Level-450. They were earlier given instruction to install timber linings for the rock pass of 31N raise.
They stopped by a pile of timbers in L-450 and took the number of pieces which they will use for linings. They at once got to the task of cutting the timbers into 4" x 6" lining materials. Finished, Charlito offered that they take a few-minute rest before hauling the timbers to the 10th floor of 31N raise. Roger, however, vetoed the idea. "I think it's better if we go now and get it over with", he said.
They were soon at the 10th floor of the raise installing the divider linings. Before starting, they didn't forget to follow the number one rule among "underground" people - to bar down seemingly loose rocks along their way and around their working area. With things apparently in order, Charlito began nailing the timber linings as Roger, poised at the manway, assisted him. While his partner hammered, Roger felt small rocks falling on his hard hat and felt uncomfortable.
Charlito was about to nail the 7th lining when Roger suddenly decided to vacate his place. He went around Charlito and stood beside him saying that falling rock fragments in his former position were making his head and hard hat miserable. This time, Roger was standing directly below the roof of the stope while his partner slightly crouched at the footwall side, nailing the 7th lining. It was 2:00am of a new day, May 17.
Charlito was not even finished with the 7th lining when he heard a crack. He didn't have time to contemplate the sound. The splitting noise was accompanied by a strong burst of air which sent him instinctively hugging a lining post at the footwall. "IT'S A CAVE IN!", his head screamed. Realizing that the roof of the stope just collapsed, he felt his body shiver uncontrollably. If another followed, he knew that he'd get buried and die clinging to the post. His thoughts desperately turned to his family as he closed his eyes and waited for the worst in the ensuing darkness.
When nothing came, Charlito gingerly groped for his cap and lamp which earlier fell to the muck flooring. In front of him, just inches away from his recent position, the light from his lamp revealed a big boulder about the size of a truck. There was no sign of his companion.
"My God, Roger's under it!" The thought horrified him. The boulder was 5'x7'x16' and weighed about 10 tons. Tears flowed down Charlito's cheeks, as he ran for help.
Roger's body was recovered at 5:30am after about 3 1/2 hours of strenuous recovery operation. His face was crushed beyond recognition just as his hard hat was mercilessly flattened. Blood and brain matter oozed out of his broken skull. His chest wall was similarly crushed and his whole body bore bruises and contusions from the rock's impact. He was pronounced dead by the responding company physician and his disfigured body was carried by the now helpless ambulance that waited restlessly for hours at the portal of L-450.
Roger was buried in the morning of May 27,1990. The night after his burial, his wife experienced labor pains and gave birth to a healthy boy at 4 o'clock the following morning.
Roger was right. His boy indeed inherited his looks. And quite appropriately, the child was named Roger Jr.
-- END --
To readers who are not familiar with mining jargon, the following terms
probably generated mental question marks (mining engineers might find my
definitions crude, but this is how I understand these words).
|Level-450||this refers to an underground mine tunnel which is located 450 meters below a reference level which is usually the main haulage level.|
|Stope||an underground excavation and working area of underground miners.|
|Raise||this is a vertical opening which connects the network of horizontal tunnels. It is usually divided into a manway and a rock pass. The manway has wooden bars which miners use as steps in climbing from one horizontal level to another (say from level-450 to level-600). The rock pass is where rock fragments from the higher levels are dropped to haulage areas or mine cars below.|
|Muck||refers to crushed waste rock produced from blasting. Roger was a "mucker" whose usual responsibility was to move mucks into the rock pass or to mine cars.|
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