Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Mozambique: Flood Death Toll Now 117

The known death toll from the floods in central and northern Mozambique has risen to 117, according to the latest report from the Ministry of State Administration and the Public Service, which supervises the country's disaster management bodies.

The report, submitted to the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) on Tuesday, says that the vast majority of the deaths (93) occurred in Zambezia province.

There were also 13 confirmed deaths in Niassa, eight in Cabo Delgado and three in Nampula. It does not mention the six deaths in Manica province reported by the local branch of the relief agency, the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC), on 20 January.

Some of the victims were swept to their deaths by the flood waters or by mudslides, others were killed when their houses collapsed on top of them, and still others were struck by lightning. The report does not state how many deaths were caused by each of these factors.

The United Nations said last week that the rains in early January had triggered floods affecting nearly one million people in Mozambique, Malawi, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. About a quarter of a million people have been forced to leave their homes.

“The floods have killed 117 people, an increase from the last balance of at least 84 dead a week ago,” said Mozambique deputy health minister Mouzinho Saide.

A majority of the deaths occurred in the central coastal region of Zambezia, he said. “The deaths were caused by drowning, lightning and collapsed houses.”

Malawi President Peter Mutharika said on Tuesday that his country, one of the poorest in the world, would probably miss its economic growth forecast this year of 5.8% owing to the rains, which had killed more than 60 people.

A lack of funds has hampered the region’s ability to tackle the effects of the disaster, according to aid groups.

Victims of the Licungo flood are also facing serious water shortages. The flood severely damaged the pumping station which provides water for all of Mocuba town.

Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario, who visited Mocuba on 22-24 January, ordered a survey of the costs involved in repairing the pumping station so as to resume the supply of clean water to Mocuba as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, tanker trucks are carrying drinking water to the accommodation centres.

The storms and floods have destroyed 8,814 houses and damaged a further 10,561. 403 schools and seven health units also suffered damage.

Work is under way to repair the five cuts in Zambezia along the main north-south highway. The most serious is on the south bank of the Licungo river in Mocuba town, where the raging flood waters swept away part of the bridge over the Licungo on 12 January. The Portuguese construction company Mota Engil is building a new embankment for the south end of the bridge, and hopes to finish this work by Friday.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

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70th anniversary of Paymaster mining disaster

Who knew what Hector Poitras was thinking that cold February morning in 1945, when he stepped onto the cage at the Paymaster No. 5 shaft getting ready to ride down into the mine with his co-workers?

It was a Friday. Maybe he was going to a dance that night, or maybe to see a hockey game at The Mac or the South Porcupine Arena. For whatever reason, Poitras didn’t have his mind completely on the job.

Poitras was a young rookie miner. That’s probably why another miner, an older fellow, gave him a friendly nudge and asked him why he didn’t have his cap lamp with him. Poitras had to get off the cage and head for the lamp room, thus missing his ride underground and possibly facing a bucket load of you-know-what from the shift boss.

That mistake would save his life.

The cage had begun its descent into the depths of the mine. Eight men were on the upper deck. Eight were on the lower deck.

The incident itself took only seconds, at about 7:55 that morning.

The cage was moving at a normal speed of about 1,200 feet per minute when the rope broke, said the Ministry of Mines report. There was no evidence to the rope being jerked or kinked, said the report.

The break sent the cage into a free fall, racing to the bottom of the shaft, instantly collapsing into a wreckage of bent steel and broken bodies.

Sixteen men lay dead and dying. It became the second-worst mining disaster in the brief history of the Porcupine Camp. The worst had occurred 17 years earlier, in February 1928, when 39 miners died in the fire at the Hollinger Mine.

This coming Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 will be the 70th anniversary of that horrible event.


There was no obvious reason why the rope broke. The steel-wire hoist rope had been purchased by Paymaster in March 1941. It had been kept in dry storage for several months and then placed in service in August 1942.

Official records showed the rope had been regularly greased and tested by mine employees.

The official Ministry of Mines report revealed the one-inch thick rope was supposed to have a breaking strength of 102,000 pounds, 51 tons. The combined weight of the cable, the cage and the men inside was only 11,700 pounds, less than six tons.

The cage had been on a run from surface to the 1,050-foot level. It was the third run of the morning, bringing miners to their respective work levels.

Hoistman C. Dukeshire, later testified he was watching the progress of the hoisting when, somewhere as the cage was approaching the 900 level, the cable went slack, indicating a break. Inexplicably, the break in the wire rope had occurred just outside the hoistroom.

About 25 feet of the rope fell back into the hoistroom. The rest of the rope plummeted down into the shaft.

Three miners on the 1,575 level saw the cage pass by their shaft station as it sped toward the bottom. They said the shaft appeared to be full of dust caused by the whipping motion of the cable. Sparks could be a seen.

The men said they had heard a strange ripping or tearing sound, and they would later testify that the cage seemed to be going faster than normal.

The three miners climbed down the manway ladders to the 2,000 level. From there, two of the men went to another shaft to collect rescuers. The third man, machinist Edgar Taillefer, continued down the manway to the bottom of the shaft, near the 2,575 level. He was the first person to see the extent of the disaster. He said he could make out the voices of two men moaning. It is believed that the other 14 men died instantly. Post mortem examinations would show that nearly all the victims suffered broken necks.

It also became clear that the only way to recover the men would be to burn through the broken and twisted steel with cutting torches.

Arrangements were made to bring acetylene torches and mine rescuers to the scene. The recovery work began. The mine rescue men had the grisly task of removing the bodies and placing them in stretcher baskets. Two local doctors were brought underground to assist the rescuers. Only one man was reached who was still alive, but it was reported he died of his injuries as he was being rushed to South Porcupine General Hospital.

On surface, the mine property was a sad and sombre place. Wives, children, friends and relatives gathered and waited for news.

A Timmins priest was at the mine head as the bodies were brought to surface, to administer the last rites of the church.

Ontario Provincial Police and Timmins Police worked together in the process of identifying the victims.

In Toronto, chief mine inspector W.O. Tower immediately made arrangements to visit Timmins. Tower and other mining officials arrived by the overnight train on the Saturday morning and went immediately to the mine.

The process also began to gather evidence and interview witnesses who would be needed at the inquest. Then, as now, a formal inquest was mandatory anytime a miner was killed on the job.

The inquest was held on Feb. 26 and 27, 1945 at the Tisdale Township Hall in South Porcupine. They heard evidence from more than 30 witnesses, most of whom were questioned by senior Crown Attorney S.A. Caldbick of Timmins. Just before the lunch hour on the second day, the inquest jury went to deliberate.

Roughly 90 minutes later, the jury filed back into room, ready to announce its findings.

The jury made a finding for 25-year-old miner Russell Dillon and that finding would apply to the remaining deceased miners.

“We find that Russell Dillon came to his death at 8:00 a.m. on February 2, 1945 in No. 5 shaft of the Paymaster Mine, in the Township of Tisdale, through first, by the breaking of the rope and secondly through the failure of the safety dogs to function properly at stop the cage.

“From the evidence submitted the rope broke because of internal corrosion of which there was no indication from external examination. We consider the dogs faulty in design and operation and recommend that all safety dogs and attachments be approved by a competent authority appointed by the Department of Mines before permitting the use of the same.

“Also that a study be made on the prevention of internal deterioration of hoisting ropes by a Commission appointed by the Provincial Government and every effort be made to prevent it. We strongly recommend that there be no delay by the said Commission in making investigation of all cables, safety devices and hoisting equipment to prevent a recurrence of this serious and deplorable accident. We find that no blame can be attached to anyone through carelessness or neglect,” said the jury document.


The hoist rope incident at the Paymaster Mine set in motion one of the most intense investigations ever undertaking into the overall safety of mine conveyances.

While the inquest into the deaths of the Paymaster miners lasted only two days, the follow-up investigation would take nearly two years.

It was a couple of days after the bodies of the miners were removed from the bottom of No. 5 shaft, that the remains of the wire rope were recovered from the shaft.

The rope was cut into lengths and subjected to several tests, which found that most of the rope was intact and in good shape.

One section of the rope, however, the one that included the break, showed that while the outside of the rope appeared normal, there was corrosion and weakness on the inner strands of wire. In some places, broken strands of wire could be see on the surface of the rope.

A Ministry of Mines expert, Robert Stewart of Toronto, testified at the inquest that the inside core of the wire ropes appeared “rotten”, indicating that regular greasing of the rope did not seem to allow grease and oil to protect the inner strands.

While the break was seen as the primary cause of the disaster, there was also a secondary issue that was regarded just as serious … and deadly.

Attached to the outside of the cage was a series of sharpened steel “teeth” that are spring loaded and set to deploy once the cable goes slack or loses tension. These are called dogs as they are designed to bite into the timber and lock the cage in place, thus preventing the fall.

The cage guides in the mineshaft were made of B.C. fir timbers, four inches by five inches, treated with creosote. The shaft area below 1,200 feet had been lined with new timbers just a month earlier. Rescuers later found that the cage dogs did in fact bite into the timbers, but quickly became clogged with bits of wood.

The dogs had engaged the timbers at about 950 feet below surface, but the cage continued to fall. It is believed this is what created the ripping sound as the steel teeth of the dogs tore into the timbers as the cage continued to plummet.

The inquest jury would later suggest that the design of the dogs was faulty and thus failed to act as a backup to a cable failure. There was also the possibility that pieces of broken rock may have gotten into the mechanism, thus preventing the dogs from being fully deployed. This was investigated, but the results were inconclusive.

As in many mining accidents, changes are made when it is discovered that the old ways of doing things are not as safe as they could be.

The Hollinger Mine fire of February 1928 resulted in the creation of Ontario Mine Rescue, and the training and deployment of underground firefighting teams.

The paymaster incident led to the creation of a provincial rope inspection laboratory.

In January 1947, almost two years after the Paymaster incident, Deputy Mines Minister Harold “Rick” Rickaby submitted a 260-page report to the government and Mines Minister Leslie Frost discussing the overall safety of wire rope and also with cage fall arrest devices, known as dogs.

As part of that study, several Ontario mining companies took action and began a more intense examination of their hoist ropes.

The International Nickel Company Inc. in Copper Cliff joined with the Ontario Mining Association to commission a special study into corrosion problems. Corrosion expert Frank LaQue would head up that study.

Research included special tests carried out at a laboratory in Bayonne, New Jersey, involving several universities, steel making companies, Shell Oil, Standard Oil, Texaco, Imperial Oil and the U.S. Navy, which was conducting a parallel research into the effects of corrosion.

Samples of the wire rope from the Paymaster were included in the study, along with rope samples from the Stobie, Levack and Creighton mines in Sudbury.

The study looked into such things as using better steel, using zinc coatings, using a poly or Bakelite type lining on the steel. None of those ideas panned out. The study recommended that better grease and oil coatings would be helpful, perhaps even coating the individual strands of wire as they were being wound into a full wire rope.

“As for the safety dogs, it was determined through free-fall testing that the design of many cages were prone to failure. It showed that in all cases of rope breakage accidents, the ratio of success to failure for cage dogs was only two to one.

“Free fall safety dog tests have already led to a marked general improvement in safety dog performance, although a great deal of intensive work and experimentation under operations conditions must be done,” said the study.

The study also found that the diameter of hoist drums in most Ontario mines was too small, and caused excessive winding of the rope. This is turn put added crushing stress on ropes under tension. It was decided that larger hoist drums would reduce the amount of crushing stress on the ropes.

In many cases, the rope concern has been solved by adding two and three separate ropes for man cages to ensure safety in the sense that if one rope breaks, the others will hold.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

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AirAsia flight QZ8501: Indonesia's Basarnas says to continue search for crash victims

Indonesia's search and rescue agency Basarnas said at a press conference on Wednesday it will continue to search for the bodies of the passengers of Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501, a day after the country's military said it was halting the recovery operations.

"Search operations will carry on even though the military has pulled out," Barsanas chief Sambang Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta. "Our main aim is to find the bodies."

Some of Basarnas's ships have come back to shore after 30 days out at sea to restock, he said, but that was not a sign that the search operation is ending. "No way," said Mr Soelistyo.

He said the recovery operation will resume on Saturday and will not end unless under instructions from President Joko Widodo and after meeting with "all parties concerned".

Bambang Soelistyo, the chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), told reporters on Wednesday that search teams were not affected by the military's pull-out.

They were taking a few days' rest but would resume their operation on Saturday at the latest.

"After seven days we will evaluate whether the operation will be extended or shut down. It will depend on the dynamics of what happens within the seven days," he said.

"If we can find one or two more bodies, that means we have the opportunity to prolong the operation," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Authorities had initially thought that most of the missing bodies would be inside the sunken fuselage, but now believe that is no longer the case.

Agency official S B Supriyadi told AFP news agency that the bodies "could be on the seabed, or have been swept away by waves and currents".

Basarnas are using helicopters, four ships and both professional and volunteer divers in their search.

The team identifying victims who have been found will still remain in operation and stationed in Surabaya, said Mr Soelistyo.

He added that victims' families had been informed of the possible deadline and understand the situation.

BBC Indonesian's Pinta Karana says that families have welcomed efforts to continue the search. But some have also expressed concern about the possible deadline.

Forensic expert Dr Anton Castilani, head of Indonesia's Disaster Identification Unit who was also present at the press conference, said it was getting more difficult to identify the bodies recovered.

Indonesia's military said on Tuesday it would stop the operation, after the team failed to float the fuselage after repeated attempts and that no more bodies had been found in the previous days.

Only 70 bodies of the plane's 162 passengers and crew had been recovered so far.

The Airbus A320-200 crashed in the Java Sea in stormy weather on Dec 28, less than half way into a two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-biggest city, to Singapore. All 162 people onboard were killed.

Except for seven foreigners, all were Indonesian. The foreigners were three Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman – co-pilot Remi Plesel.

Malaysia, Singapore, US, China, Japan and France joined the multinational search and rescue operation at one point.

The Indonesian navy had provided much of the personnel and equipment for the rescue effort. Mr Soelistyo said on Wednesday that Basarnas is deploying new boats to the recovery mission and installing underwater devices to them.

"By law, if within seven days we can't find more victims, we have to evaluate and decide whether to continue or stop," he told reporters. "But if any third party requests us to continue, we will."

The plane's cockpit is suspected to be located in one of the nine coordinates identified, Mr Soelistyo said.

"What we're searching for isn't just the cockpit, but what's inside the cockpit," he said, referring to the bodies of the pilots, Captain Iriyanto and his deputy Remi Plesel.

The team will also try to lift the plane's fuselage from the bottom of the sea, he said.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

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Indonesian military stops search and recovery for remains of AirAsia QZ8501

The Indonesian military said Tuesday that it was stopping its efforts to recover the remains of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 almost a month after the commercial jet crashed into the sea.

Indonesia's search and rescue agency, Basarnas, will continue its work to try to retrieve bodies from the wreckage site in the Java Sea, the head of the agency, Bambang Soelistyo, said Wednesday.

The military provided the majority of personnel and hardware involved in the recovery operation, which was hindered by bad weather and technical problems.

"We are really disappointed," Imam Sampurno, whose four family members who were on the plane still haven't been found, said of the military's announcement. "We really hope the evacuation process is still going."

Basarnas said it would have 60 divers, eight salvage experts, seven boats, two helicopters and a fixed-wing plane taking part in the continued search efforts, which will resume Saturday after the teams take a rest.

Failed attempts to lift fuselage

Flight QZ8501 went down on December 28 as it flew from the Indonesian city of Surabaya toward Singapore with 162 people on board.

So far, searchers have managed to recover 70 bodies from the sea, leaving 92 still unaccounted for.

Searchers have so far retrieved 70 bodies from the Java Sea.Over the weekend, navy divers tried to lift part of the fuselage of the plane using wire ropes and giant balloons. But the attempts failed after lines attached to the wreckage broke.

An effort to lift a smaller piece of wreckage was also unsuccessful, the military said.

"Our main priority is to find the bodies. We are not going to focus on lifting the fuselage," Soelistyo said Wednesday about the future search plans.

Divers falling sick

The chief of the Indonesian armed forces, Gen. Moeldoko, on Tuesday ordered the military teams involved in the operation to pull out, said military spokesman Manahan Simorangkir.

Officials said that 19 of the 81 navy divers working on the recovery efforts had fallen ill with decompression sickness and would be taken for treatment at a hospital in Jakarta, the capital.

"I told them safety first. But as we know, soldiers, they are always working hard to find the bodies," said Rear Adm. Widodo, commander of the Indonesian Navy's western fleet. "They are not thinking about safety but about doing their duty."

The divers haven't been able to see any more bodies inside the wreckage of the fuselage, Widodo said.

Officials had previously suggested that many of the missing human remains might be found inside the fuselage.

But Widodo said some bodies could be trapped or hidden under wreckage on the seafloor.

Searchers have recovered at least 14 bodies from the fuselage site, including some that floated free during attempts to lift the wreckage, according to officials.

Possible computer issue examined

Indonesian aviation investigators are still trying to establish why Flight QZ8501 went down in an area of heavy thunderstorms last month while other planes nearby completed their journeys safely.

Investigators are looking at whether the aircraft's flight augmentation computers (FACs) played a role in what went wrong, the news agency Reuters reported Tuesday, citing two unidentified people familiar with the matter.

The FAC helps pilots with the stability and control of the aircraft, keeping it on course at the proper altitude and making sure adjustments to the rudder are smooth. It also warns pilots if they try to manually push the plane beyond its capabilities. Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, had two FACs, one serving as a backup.

Indonesian officials have said the aircraft climbed rapidly before it fell into the water.

The reason for the sharp ascent is unclear, but aviation analysts say the FAC could have recognized trouble and, at a critical moment, automatically shifted full control back to the pilots who may not have realized it amid the crisis.

Investigators have submitted their preliminary report into the crash, officials said Tuesday. But authorities have said they don't plan to release it to the public.

Indonesian Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan told CNN on Monday that the final report into the disaster should be published in less than a year.

"It won't be a year, that's my promise," he said.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

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