Families affected by Westray Mine disaster remember loved ones 30 years later

Thirty years after an underground explosion at the Westray Mine in Plymouth, N.S., heartache lingers for families left behind, although some say the disaster should no longer define the lives of the men who died.

Damian Short's father was one of 26 men killed in the tragic explosion on the morning of May 9, 1992.

Damian was only seven years old at the time, but he says the memories of that day still stick with him.

"I remember getting up and my mom was, she was upset, and I didn't really know what was going on," he says.

"She told me there was an accident at the mine, and of course at that point, we didn't know what had happened or if everybody was OK or not."

Damian's father, Romeo Short, died after a methane gas leak ignited coal dust and caused a massive explosion deep in the mine. He was 35. 

The Westray explosion is considered one of the deadliest mining disasters in Canadian history.

There were no survivors. In total, 26 men who were working underground at the time of the explosion lost their lives.

Crews spent six days searching for bodies, and 15 were recovered, but 11 bodies were never found.  

Damian says his father, who was from Newfoundland, started working at the Westray Mine in September 1991. It was his father's first time working in a coal mine.

"He went there to work. He was a normal guy, you know. He enjoyed his time off. He enjoyed hanging out with his family and doing his thing," says Damian. "Just a normal, chilled-out guy."

His father's body was one of the 15 recovered from the mine. He was laid to rest in Triton, N.L., where he was originally from.

Holly Anne Feltmate's family also lost a loved one in the tragedy. Her father, Roy Feltmate, was one of 11 men who were never recovered from the mine. She says without a grave, closure is difficult.

 "My father was never found, so it was kind of hard for me the last 30 years.  If I had a place to go to, it probably would have been a lot easier for me," she said.

Since the tragedy, Damian says he has learned to live life to the fullest -- something he encourages others to do as well.

"Take advantage of everyday because you never know how much time you have left, or how much time your loved ones have left, so, just seize the moment.”

Damian also wishes the descendants' tragic deaths no longer define them.

"They were all just normal guys, who, at the end of the day, were in an economically depressed area during an economically depressed time, when it was hard to get by," he said. "They were just trying to provide for their families, and that's it and they were killed because of it."

A special service commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster will take place at the Westray Miners Memorial Park in New Glasgow, N.S., at 7 p.m. Monday.

CTV News will be livestreaming the event.