Natural Resources

Avalanches

Date: February 13, 1905

Location: York Harbour

Easting: 399400

Northing: 5436200

Latitude: 49° 04' 00" N

Longitude: 58° 23' 00" W

Fatalities: 0

Injuries: 2

Source: Western Star, Feb 22, 1905

In 1893 prospector Daniel Henderson discovered a copper deposit high in the Blomidon Mountains on the west coast of Newfoundland, and in 1897 mining began at what was to be known as the York Harbour mine. The operation had a chequered history, suffering through mismanagement, lawsuits, an epidemic of dysentery, and a major fire, but continued on into the 20th century. Like many mining operations of the time, the miners was billeted within walking distance of the mine, and undertook a short journey up steep slopes to reach the mine site. February 1905 was a hard winter - the Western Star wrote "The storms experienced there [York Harbour] of late have been something terrible". On the evening of Monday 20 February a fierce storm was raging when Thomas Burton (chief engineer at the mine) left the mine site to return home. On his way he met James Flynn, the second engineer, on his way to relieve him. Burton decided to accompany Flynn back to the mine-site, but on the way a large avalanche swept down the hill-side, burying both men under nearly four feet of snow. In the words of the Western Star reporter:

"They were almost smothered by the flying cloud and were knocked down in a cramped position. There they lay for five hours, suffering untold agonies. At first they endeavoured to work their way out through the snow, but they soon became exhausted from the superhuman efforts to free themselves, and the thought of their friends coming to their rescue helped to cheer them in their snowy beds".

Their absence was not noticed for an hour or more, but after no relief appeared at the mine, word was sent to Flynn's house, at which point it was realized that both Flynn and Burton were missing. The whole mining settlement took part in a search, and it soon became clear that the missing men were buried below the avalanche debris that blocked the path to the mine. Despite the best efforts of all, it was not until midnight that they found the victims. "Owing to the severe shock, laborious exertions and long confinement, Burton and Flynn were more dead than alive when rescued, but were thankful for their deliverance from a horrible death. They were laid off work for three or four days" Burton and Flynn should be thankful indeed. It is extremely unusual to survive such a long period of burial in such an avalanche. Most victims die of suffocation in the first 30 minutes of burial, and fewer than 5% survive burial for more than an hour.

 
Last Updated:
This page and all contents are copyright, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, all rights reserved.