by A21 Reporter Andy Clems
The force of the explosion rocked the Fire Cat violently and Virgil was almost thrown from his operator’s chair. Gripping the controls, he turned the vehicle on the spot to face the new danger.
A wall of fire had cut off the path to the elevator shaft and the Fire Cat had expended the last of its ‘snuffer’ devices. Virgil swiveled a dial on the console in front of him, switching over to standard suppressant foam. Engaging the pumps at full power, he gunned the engine and proceeded forward towards the flames.
At the bottom of the mine, Scott and Alan were hurriedly getting the miners back to the elevator shaft. The roof of the chamber they’d been standing in had held just long enough for them to get everyone clear. It collapsed moments later, blocking off the tunnel completely. Scott knew it had been too close, another second and there would have been fatalities. He glanced at Alan, who was helping an injured man along the dark passageway. They’d make it okay, provided there were no more cave ins, but he was worried about Virgil. That explosion had sounded incredibly close on the radio. He put the thought out of his mind and kept moving.
The incredible foam had done the trick, once again the way was clear and Virgil pulled up alongside the Monobrake. He jumped down from the Fire Cat’s cabin and leapt into the low-slung machine next to it, snatching up the radio set. He wasted no time checking his brothers and the miners were safe and reassuring them that he was too. He explained that the Fire Cat’s radio had been damaged by the blast, but that the fire had been extinguished above ground.
Scott and Alan could hardly have been more relieved as they reached the elevator shaft and helped the work crew on board the service elevator car. Once the doors were secure, they clambered up the ladder into the Dycetaline Cage. Scott operated the mechanical grabs below the Cage and they clamped onto the roof of the mine elevator below. With the grabs secure, Alan engaged the winch system and both elevator cars began the journey back to the surface.
Seated at the controls of the Monobrake, Virgil watched the progress on the monitor in front of him. His relief quickly turned to dread as one of the seismic sensors showed the shaft beginning to crack again. If there was another collapse in the shaft itself, both elevator cars would be destroyed and there would be no escape for those inside. The explosions and earlier cave-in had obviously weakened the whole area. The two flashing blips on the screen were less than half way up the shaft. Even at maximum speed, they weren’t going to make it before the shaft was critically destabilized.
Virgil urgently reported the new danger to Scott. The elder Tracy made a split second decision. Knowing it was a risk, but seeing it as their only potential hope, he instructed Virgil to release the stabilizing jacks on the Monobrake and use the vehicle to haul them clear at speed. Concerned, Virgil asked for confirmation. Even as Scott replied, Virgil could hear the cracking of rock on the radio. He flipped a switch and the stabilizing jacks retracted into the Monobrake. As smoothly as he could, he began to drive forward, gaining speed with each passing moment.
Inside the shaft, Alan cast an uncertain look at Scott as he felt the Cage surge upward. Scott nodded back, focusing on the depth indicator. They were nearing the surface, but the sound of crumbling rock was all around, like an avalanche about to swallow them up.
Gritting his teeth, Virgil saw the Cage and mine elevator break the surface and slammed on the brakes. Both elevators were lying on their sides on the surface. The doors of the Cage slid open and Alan climbed out, followed by Scott. They grabbed the doors of the mine elevator and managed to force them open, allowing the miners to escape.
As the last man got out, there was a thunderous crack and the ground around the elevator shaft broke up and fell out of sight into the dark depths. Scott heaved a sigh of relief, slapping Virgil on the back and thanking him for a job well done. Alan ran over grinning from ear to ear and added his own congratulations. If anything, Virgil was the most relieved of all, glad that the gambit had worked, not only for the sake of his brothers, but for the rescued miners too.
As the sirens of the local ambulance service closed in, the three brothers drove their respective vehicles back to Thunderbird 2. Scott blasted off in Thunderbird 1 and was soon out of sight. Virgil was about to follow, when he noticed an electrical fault warning on his instrument panel. He double-checked it. It wasn’t serious, but just to be safe he made a note to report it to base at the earliest opportunity. Thunderbird 2 blasted off and was soon on it’s way to International Rescue HQ, where an unexpected visitor was about to make an appearance…