Story & Photos: Margaret Mackay ©
On Thursday 10 March 2022 at approx 3.30pm the Coober Pedy Mine Rescue/SES pagers went off requesting a response.
An opal miner was stuck at the bottom of a mine shaft out on the old Seven Mile Field at Coober Pedy and his generator had broken down.
Opal Miner Frank Pennisi aged 83 related his 6 – 7 hour ordeal to the Coober Pedy Regional Times, how he inadvertently found himself 43ft down at the bottom of a mine shaft.
“I had decided to go down and check the shaft while I was out on my claim doing some other work,” said Frank.
“I was half way down and the generator stopped, so I climbed back up using the safety ladders. When I got almost to the top, I lost my footing, slipped and went straight down, feet first.”
“Fortunately I landed on a mound of soft powder that had fallen down over time from the sides of the shaft. The mound was fairly deep and so it cushioned the impact.”
“I knew somebody would come eventually, so I just sat there in the bottom of the shaft until my wife Nikki realised something was wrong and drove out to the claim looking for me with nephew Peter Doumtsis. They found me stuck down the shaft, and with no operating generator.“
Nephew Peter recalls that day and how worried they were. “Uncle Frank hadn’t turned up for lunch, and when it got to 3pm Aunty Nikki had became extremely worried. She came and got me and we drove out to the field together.”
“When we arrived at the claim we jumped out of the car and started shouting out his name. We heard Uncle Frank calling back to us from inside the shaft, yelling, ‘I’m stuck down the shaft. Call Daniel and the Mine Rescue’!”
”We began making calls. Firstly to local opal miner Daniel O’ Connor and then immediately to 000.”
“Daniel arrived first. He dropped everything and came immediately to help Uncle Frank. Daniel used his own generator to lower a winch down to where Uncle Frank was stranded, enabling him [Frank] to get into the seat of the winch. Daniel then winched him to the surface, talking to him all the way. Auntie Nikki and I assisted as best we could at the top. Mine Rescue arrived shortly after this.”
After the ordeal Peter said, “Uncle Frank is a very lucky man. We are so grateful for the incredible support of those involved and and especially for Daniel O’Connor’s rapid response and his amazing skill in that delicate situation that was both dark, deep and narrow.”
After Frank was rescued from the shaft, he was found to have two fractured ankles. The RFDS was called and Frank was flown to Adelaide for further scans and repairs.
Frank Pennisi is an opal mining veteran, former President of the Coober Pedy Miners Assoc., and served as a councilor on Coober Pedy’s first Council.
From his hospital room, Frank spoke of his overwhelming gratitude to those who responded, beginning with his wife Nikki, nephew Peter and hero of the day Daniel O’ Connor.
Frank expressed his sincere thanks to the Mine Rescue Volunteers, the Ambulance Service, the Coober Pedy Hospital, the Local Police, and to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for his safe carriage to Adelaide.