This tragedy happened in a place called Grass Valley, California. Fourteen-year-old Jeff Anderson and his sister, Sharon, who was a year older, had not returned back from exploring a local mine with twelve other young teenagers. Their parents were, by now, getting quite anxious, so they decided to ring their counterparts to see if any of them knew the whereabouts of the children. Everyone was concerned and would meet at the Anderson home after police had been called
Within minutes of everyone arriving, there was a knock on the door. It was the police, a male and female officer. The woman took statements from all the parents, while the male officer asked the Andersons where they thought their children might have gone that morning. When he found out, he immediately rang the bus station to find the driver who had picked the children up that morning.
‘He dropped them at the Empire Historic Park,’ the station manager responded quickly, ‘but nobody was waiting for them.’
This was later confirmed when they questioned the Park’s rangers. By now, it was getting very dark and it wouldn’t be possible to follow the children’s trail, so it had been decided to start searching at first light. The parents were frantic. Some stayed with the Andersons, who were only too happy to have them there just to get them through the night.
During the evening, the police officers continued grilling the parents.
‘Óur children were delighted when they discovered that their great-great grandfather had worked at Ned’s Snake Creek mine,’ replied the Andersons.,but were told not to inform the other parents until their was proof
The officers deduced that the students could have headed to Ned’s Mine knowing that it was not far from the Empire Historic Park. . It had turned midnight and the policeman left, leaving the compatriot to take calls if there were any news.
Some of the parents stayed and tried to get some sleep, but most could not, hoping their children might call.
Early the next morning, the sergeant managed to make contact with an elderly miner who knew where the mine in question was located and said that he would show them the way.
It was not too long before a helicopter arrived. The policeman and the miner both got in and they set off to Ned’s Mine. However, when they arrived at the area, the pilot told them it was too dangerous to land.
The policeman knew straight away from looking through binoculars that this was the place where the students had gone. He could see broken bushes and the ‘Danger’ sign lying down on the ground. He radioed back to the station informing them of what he had seen.
When the helicopter landed back at the Empire Historic Park, the other officers had found a number of volunteers to help search for the children. Reporters and TV crews had also turned up, asking everyone questions. By mid-morning, all the volunteers had gathered, along with tracker dogs, firemen, police, and excavation equipment. There were also three 4×4 army ambulances and drivers and several doctors and nurses.
All the parents were allowed to go to the Empire Historic Park, but were requested to stay in the lounge with a policewoman, who would be kept up to date with events by phone. The reporters and the TV crew followed closely behind, asking question after question. Once the rescue team had left, the parents gathered together, along with some of the students that, unbeknownst to the parents, were supposed to have gone. That was until one of the students turned to her friend.
‘Bloody hell, glad we didn’t go to Ned’s mine,’she whispered.
One of the mothers had been standing right behind the girl and overheard what she had said.
‘What did you say, young lady?’ she shouted. ‘Go where? You all knew where they were going, yet you never told anyone about it? Not even the police?’
The girl, whose name was Margaret, gasped when she realised what she’d done. Her mother came running across to her aid.
‘Leave my child alone,’ she said to the other mother. ‘She does not need you shouting at her like that. I bet she must have been told by your kids not to say a word.’
‘Well, that might be the case, but whose idea was this anyway?’
‘I am afraid it’s my son’s fault,’ interjected John, Jeff’s father. ‘He might have started it, if they went to Ned’s Snake Creek mine. I am so sorry, my daughter and son mean the world to us, like yours. Again, I’m so sorry.’
Margaret by now was crying. Putting her arm around her, her mother looked back at John. ‘No, Mr Anderson, it is not your fault. My daughter has told me that they all wanted to go and all agreed, as it seemed to them a good idea. No one forced them to go.’
‘Thanks, Margaret, for telling us the truth, even if it is too late,’ John replied sadly.
Meanwhile, all this commotion was being televised and reporters were taking notes, to the horror of all the parents. The children thought it was great to be on TV, even if their parents disagreed. However, during the rescue attempt, the TV media and reporters would report everything.
After everyone calmed down as best they could, they waited in silence for any news. Before long, the policewoman’s phone rang. After receiving the message, she switched her phone off. .
‘The rescue teams have got to the mine and they are certain that the students had gone inside,’ she said, ‘they will keep us informed.’ The worry and anxiety was written all over the parents’ faces as they waited for the phone to ring again.
Back at the mine entrance, the rescue teams were using a drilling machine to try to get some air into the mine. The volunteers were clearing the rocks and rubble away, while others kept shoring up the roof and sides of the mine. This carried on for most of the day. They had only managed to clear about fifty yards inside when the air drilling machine was turned off as a shout went out.
Two bodies had been found. Peter, one of the rescuers, recognised the two young students.
‘It’s Mark and Paul,’ he called out. ‘They had almost made it out. They had been fifty yards from safety.’
After the doctors examined the two young boys, they confirmed that they were both dead. Silence fell among the rescue teams for a moment in respect of the young boys, and concern grew for the other kids but they had to continue.
Th foreman hoped that there might be an air pocket further in the cave and that the students could be trapped there. He knew, without a doubt, that they had to keep trying, no matter what the outcome. It had been decided to begin using the drill that had been placed in position on the top of the hill, with a base already having been prepared. Once it had been placed in position, they agreed to start drilling. However, this would take some time.
The police officer had spoken at length with one of the mining experts, who had informed him that they would continue to excavate the mine. He also told the officer that the most likely place where they would find the students would be where the donkeys and carts would have turned, but that was at least another two hundred yards or so further in.
Suddenly a piercing scream echoed as men came running out, shouting that the mine was collapsing and that it was too dangerous to go back in. There was a deathly silence, as everyone knew it could take weeks or months, or even longer, to get to the students. It seemed a hopeless task, unless the drill had better luck in finding the others alive. By now, the bodies of the two young students had been taken to the morgue.
It had been agreed that the drilling works would continue twenty-four-seven until they broke through to the mine. The police officer overheard the head foreman giving out orders for some of the crew to leave and return the next morning.
With all this new information, he rang the policewoman and asked her to tell the parents what was happening, without mentioning the sad news about the two dead boys. After the she took the call, she then turned and grimaced at the anxious faces of the parents.
‘So sorry it’s not good news,’ she began. ‘My colleague has told me that there has been a collapse in the mine. They are going to keep drilling from above until they break through.’
It seemed as if everyone began to yell and cry at the same moment, although some were so shocked that they were stunned into silence.
Meanwhile, back at the mine, it was starting to get quite dark, so the officer decided it was time to leave. Driving back to the Park, he began thinking of the daunting task of informing the distressed parents, all of whom he knew personally. In his heart, he felt there was little hope of their children being found alive.
He also had the other distressing task of informing the parents of Paul and Mark that their children were dead, and that they would need to go with him to the morgue that night to identify the bodies.
This was the worst accident that had ever befallen the City of Nevada. A few days later, the funeral cortege for Mark and Paul would pass through their school grounds, then continue on to Grass Valley cemetery. As for the other twelve missing children, sadly all hope of the rescuers finding any of them alive diminished as the days and weeks passed.
This sad tragedy would last for a long time. However, some of their mothers and fathers would not give up hope, even as the months passed by.