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Wednesday September 12, 2018

Last man to emerge from collapsed Springhill mine

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The last man to emerge from a shattered Nova Scotia mine 60 years ago has died. Herb Pepperdine was 95 years old when he died on Friday in Springhill, N.S.

His obituary says Mr. Pepperdine mined coal all his life and spent eight days trapped in the Springhill mine after an underground convulsion on Oct. 23, 1958.

He was among 174 men underground when the No. 2 mine operated by the Cumberland Railway and Coal Co. was jolted by a resounding boom, trapping them and killing 75. Scores died instantly.

In a 2008 interview, Mr. Pepperdine described crawling along the floor of the pitch-black mine in search of food and water, three days after the world learned of the unfolding tragedy at North America's deepest coal mine.

"I was feeling around, looking for something," he said. "I could smell a chocolate bar in a lunch can."

Hunger gnawing at his shrunken stomach, he could have eaten it there in the gloom.

But, the 35-year-old miner instead shared the sweet treasure with six other trapped men.

"I split it between us, best I could," he said at the time. "That little bar of chocolate was good after three or four days with nothing."

The violent shifting of strata rattled dishes and windows throughout Springhill. Some residents were knocked off their chairs as they watched Don Messer's Jubilee on TV.

The seismic shrug was felt in Amherst, 25 kilometres away.

"We were standing there talking, and she bumped," Mr. Pepperdine said.

"It just knocked you out, the concussion. ... Just like someone fired a shotgun near your ear."

Through swirling curtains of coal dust, Mr. Pepperdine eventually found six other men where the coal seam was precariously held open by a mangled roof support.

Another 12 survivors were stuck about 100 metres below.

Within the first 24 hours, 81 men walked or were helped from the mine.

Teams dug round the clock with short-handled picks and buckets, only finding more bodies.

Mr. Pepperdine and his mates sang hymns to keep their spirits up and take their minds off their unquenchable thirst and hunger.

On Oct. 29, almost six days after the bump, a rescue miner heard voices coming from a broken pipe.

"We're alive in here!" bellowed one of the men in the group of 12.

About 12 hours later, the first group of so-called "miracle miners" was brought to the surface.

Mr. Pepperdine said he was surrounded by the stench of death and poisonous gases before he heard pounding in the distance. He and his crew banged on metal pipes to draw their rescuers near.

He recalled a sudden flash of light and a miner telling him not to look around at the bodies of his friends. He was then led out of the mine, lifting the gauze that protected his weakened eyes, just enough to catch a glimpse of sunlight.

Associated Graphic

Miner Herb Pepperdine was among 99 men who survived a mine collapse in Nova Scotia in 1958.

BRUCE WEST/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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