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TOWN ROCKED AS TWO KILLED IN MUNITIONS FACTORY EXPLOSION

By SAM RICHES and BRIAN LITTLELY
10may06
TWO men are confirmed dead and another is missing - feared dead - after a blast at an explosives factory in the state's Mid North.

Two more men have been airlifted to hospital in Adelaide - all five inside the Quin Ammunition factory near Gladstone when it exploded just after noon yesterday.

The force of the blast ripped apart the main factory building and equipment in an area "the size of a football field" according to police, with debris of bricks and twisted metal scattered kilometres away from the factory compound.

The sound and shock of the explosion damaged houses up to 1km away and echoed as far as 40km away at Booleroo Centre.

"The whole building is basically gone, there's just the corner of it left. . . I'm told it's an area bigger than a football field and debris is spread over that area," said police inspector Phil Warwick, of Northern Operations.

One man walked from the blast with no major injuries, another was trapped - pinned at the site by machinery which fell on his legs.

A fellow worker frantically worked to free the man, not knowing if or when further explosions could occur. The trapped man was brought from the building to meet paramedics waiting nearby.

The two injured men were taken to Crystal Brook Hospital before being airlifted to Adelaide.

Inspector Warwick said the bodies of two of the missing men were located "near the vicinity" of what was the factory. The third man remained unaccounted for, feared dead within the inaccessible inner perimeter near the centre of the blast.

"We have located two bodies and we are are looking for a third person who is still missing, but things don't look too good," Inspector Warwick said.

The factory, once used as a military ammunition storage depot during WWII and then to produce military ammunition, is now used to manufacture explosives used within the mining industry. It is understood the factory has around 16 employees, all local. However the five men were the only ones inside the building at the time of the blast.

The cause of the explosion is yet to be determined. Police were still unable to examine the site last night - shutting it down as containers of explosives were found and natural light faded.

The community of Gladstone, about 12km from the site of the explosion, was shocked into action, shopkeepers and residents taking to the streets having heard and felt the blast, according to Anglican Bishop, Garry Weatherill.

"The windows all shuddered and there was a very loud noise," he said.

Other residents said they thought the blast was an earthquake or a petrol tanker explosion. Almost all those in the town felt it.

The close-knit community of about 600 waited anxiously last night for confirmation of who had been killed and injured in the incident. "The town's been kicked in the guts over the years with a lot of government departments closing," resident Tom Humphris said.

"This is one more thing we don't want to lose."

At the Gladstone CFS shed, volunteer firefighters spoke highly of the explosives manufacturing facility as a good employer for the district.

"They have been making explosives out there for about 15 to 18 years," one volunteer said. "They have been fantastic for the community. . . They were very good employers of sports people in the town."

Premier Mike Rann, who arrived at the scene yesterday afternoon, said last night the site would be shut as containers of explosives were located within the perimeter.
 

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from todays tiser

I May Never Find My Son
By BRYAN LITTLELY, BEN WAY and SAM RICHES
11may06

Darren Millington with his wife Judith, and children Bailey, Rhys and Koby

STRUGGLING to come to terms with losing his son, Kevin Millington has told how he feared the worst as he heard there had been an explosion near Gladstone.

"I knew exactly where it was and I knew that Darren would be working there," the Crystal Brook 84-year-old said yesterday.

Darren Millington, 41, is presumed dead after Tuesday's blast.

The bodies of Mathew Keeley and Damian Harris have been retrieved from the site but Mr Millington's remains have not been found - and his father believes there may be no body to bury.

Two seriously hurt survivors are in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Investigators yesterday made slow progress examining the Quin Investments factory site amid fears it was highly dangerous.

Leaking chemical tanks blocked safe access to the epicentre of the blast, the danger forcing emergency workers back 100m as a haze appeared over the area.

Robotic equipment was sent in to make sure it was safe before the second body was recovered.

Forensic scientists worked with explosives experts yesterday to begin piecing together exactly what happened at the Mid North factory.

Police Inspector Phil Warrick said the site was still dangerous.

"The worry is that there are so many things (chemicals and wreckage) out there," he said.

A lawyer for the Quin company, Sydney Maidment, hinted that a handling error was a probable cause, because the explosive ingredients were usually kept separate for safety.

"It's a massive explosion. Something has set off the explosives, but they are safe to handle," he said.

"Something has given it a whack and it takes a fair whack to do it. "That is the mystery. Something in the procedure has gone wrong."

Some Gladstone residents who experienced a power surge just before the explosion have suggested the two events might be connected, but Mr Maidment was not aware of any surges in the factory area.

A police victim identification team has been sent from Adelaide to formally identify the three dead using DNA techniques and forensic pathology. "Once the area is safe, then we will look for the other person," Insp Warrick said.

"Identification will be a problem because of the injuries."

As heavy machinery was brought to the edges of the blast area to help contain any leaks of volatile chemicals not destroyed in the explosion, SES volunteers helping look for clues to its cause made a shoulder-to-shoulder search of surrounding areas. Each find, including twisted heavy metal machinery parts from inside the factory, was recorded, photographed and marked. The process is expected to take several days.

Mr Millington told The Advertiser he last spoke to his son at the local football on Saturday in what he described as a rare father-son chat.

"We had a good talk and we never really do that. When Darren left me then I said: 'I enjoyed talking to you' . . . it is a good memory to have," he said.

Holding back tears, he said the hardest thing to come to terms with was the thought there may be nothing of his son left to bury.

"A body is a body . . . if there's nothing, what do you do," he said.

Darren is survived by his wife, Judith, and three children - Rhys, 17, Koby, 13, and Bailey, 10. Rhys and Koby are "outstanding" young footballers and captain the senior and junior colts sides at Southern Flinders Football Club.

"They are all devastated," Mr Millington said.

Gladstone residents were quick to defend the company yesterday, saying it had been a vital employer for the region.

"They were an integral part of our community and this has left a huge hole in our community," Geoff Brand said. "This is going to have a huge affect on our whole community and will do so for many years."

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Hero saves a mate
By BEN WAY
11may06

SES volunteers search the perimeter of the blast site yesterday for debris which started a grass fire after the Gladstone explosion.

ONE OF the heroes of the Gladstone explosion has described how he rushed into the flaming zone in a desperate search for his workmates.

Danny Palmer, 29, from Gladstone, who was less than 500m from the factory at the time of the explosion, said when he heard the massive blast he immediately held grave fears for his friends and family.

"The flames were just huge, they were enormous and it was so hot you would not believe," he said.

"It was like nothing you could ever imagine - you could not imagine this destruction."

Mr Palmer said rescuers were battling 10-metre-high flames and falling debris as they dragged out a blast victim, suffering severe bleeding from shrapnel wounds.

He pushed past CFS crews at the site and immediately found Cameron Edson, 24, screaming in pain, covered in blood and lying trapped under heavy machinery.

"The CFS guys didn't go in there to look for them because they had to follow protocol . . ." he said. "I can understand that in an area with explosives around they were probably not allowed in there, but it's a bit different if it's your mate. I had no choice but to go in there and get him." Mr Palmer said Mr Edson was only metres from the flames and possibly only seconds from death.

"It would have been very difficult for him to get out of there," he said.

"Another worker, Darren Kite, works in a volt plant not far from the factory and was right near it when it happened and came to help. We had to push the machine forward so we could get him out because his leg was trapped right underneath it."

Mr Edson had severe lacerations to his back and face and burns caused by TNT powder all over his body. "I threw him on my back while Kitey (Darren Kite) went and got his car," Mr Palmer said.

The pair took the injured man to hospital.

Mr Palmer and seven of Cameron's friends travelled to Adelaide yesterday to join his parents, Lyn and Colin Edson at the Royal Adelaide hospital.

"Me and Cameron are close mates - as is the case with all the boys involved."
 
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