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Lost their brother in the mine

Frank Robert and Bent Jakobsen lost Geir Arne Jakobsen in a mining accident in 1991. FOTO: Hilde Røsvik

Lost their brother in the mine

Frank Robert and Bent Jakobsen lost Geir Arne Jakobsen in a mining accident in 1991. Last Thursday they unveiled the memorial for all the workers who were killed.

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Geir Arne Jakobsen was only 24 years old when he died in Mine 3. The establishment of a memorial that includes his name is greatly appreciated by his brothers.

"This is both good and sad," said Frank Robert Jakobsen, Geir's older brother. "Although it's been 25 years since the accident, it remains fresh in your heart like it just happened. It's good to have a memorial. A place where we can gather and commemorate."

A mining famiiy
Frank Jakobsen worked for Store Norske for 20 years, and knows the company well from his time as a miner, engineer and eventually head of logistics. His father, Leif Jakonsen, worked his way up the ladder until 1994 and his brother Bent is still employed by the company.

Frank Jakobsen has also been involved in several of the incidents where workers have died.

In his speech during the unveiling of the memorial, he recounted the deadliest accident in Store Norske's history. It occurred on Jan. 3, 1920, when 34 men were working the night shift at Mine 1. Nobody knew at the time that a small spark would cause an explosion that killed 26 people and and that only eight would survive the night.

Seventy-one years later, Frank Jakobsen's own family was affected by a tragedy.

The accident
His brother Geir was working as an excavator on May 31, 1991. The accident happened when he was clamping down one of the pistons. A large boulder weighing 150 tons came loose and tore down the pistons, trapping him underneath,

"It was a Friday afternoon and I was making a brief visit to stop by my parents," Frank Jakobsen said. "The phone rings and my mother takes it. She looks at me and says 'It's your father and he will talk to you.' I took the phone and he says 'There's been an accident at the stope. It's a block fall and it's Geir. It is severe."

Frank rushed up to Mine 3 and when he arrived at the accident site comes a doctor was crawling out of the stope. He said he couldn't declare Geir dead, but it was impossible to survive such an accident.

At home the entire family and Geir's cohabitant were in shock. The unthinkable had happened. Within seconds a stone block of more than 100 tons had taken another life in the mine.

Accepting the accident

The family blames no one for the accident. They believe it was caused by unfortunate circumstances and geology.

"I worked as a mining engineer and knew what had happened and that nobody could be blamed," Frank Jakobsen said. "Nor was there any breach of security regulations or other mistakes that were made."

That made it easier to live with the accident in retrospect.

"Life will never be the same after something like that," he said. "But we have been open and talked about the accident after the fact. It has made it easier to carry on."

His brother is buried in the town of Sørreisa in the Troms region.

Engaged
The older brother said Geir was an active boy in the town's youth community. Among his activities were filming, diving, playing in bands and practicing martial arts.

"He was very enthusiastic and outgoing," Frank Jakobsen said.

He recalls the night the accident had happened, and how the living room and the house were filled with children, friends and colleagues.

"It is very good that now a memorial has been put up," he said. "It is also high time. In earlier times accidents were not an issue that was talked about."

Of the 124 who lost their lives while working for Store Norske during its 100-year history, more than 100 were killed during the first 50 years. Eventually work took place with greatly improved safety procedures and equipment. It has been more than ten years since the most recent fatal accident in 2005.

A committee
Frank Jakobsen was part of the committee that worked to put a memorial in place. He was responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the names on the memorial, using both state archives and Store Norske reports to complete the work. It turned out that many of the young miners lied about their age in order to get a job. That made the task of name checking more demanding. Frank Jakobsen said he has spent much time going through the church records and personnel records so that everything would be right. says he has spent spent considerable time going through the church and personnel records so everything would be right.

Only those who died working for Store Norske are listed on the memorial.

The memorial
The design of the memorial was decided by the committee at Store Norske that has been working on it for the past year. The memorial is a steel monument with the slab in corten steel. The company Skiltgravering AS in Sande in Vestfold built it.

The features
The memorial is 2.4 meters high, 1.5 meters wide and 15 centimeters thick. It weighs nearly a ton. The monument is attached with bolts drilled into a concrete foundation.

Sveinung Lystrup Thesen, Store Norske's property manager said various locations were considered, but the area beneath Mine 1A was the preferred option. He said he is pleased Norway's Directorate for Cultural Heritage, The Governor of Svalbard and the Longyearbyen Community Council were supportive of the project and allowed the monument to be put up at a protected cultural heritage site.

"We wanted to have it on the side of Longyearbyen associated with Mine 1A where the biggest accident was," said Thesen, referring to the memorial about 30 meters from the road. "It stands nicely there with sufficient space around it."

Frank Jakobsen said he is also pleased with the location.

"The memorial has gotten a worthy and good location in an area with a lot of history," he said.

The memorial will eventually look rusted and weathered out.

"We had a desire that it should be simple and expressive," Thesen said. "It should be fit the nature and scree around it, and eventually get a rough and industrial feel."

Se bildet større

A photograph of Geir Arne Jakobsen at the stope in Mine 3 was on the cover of Svalbardposten on June 7, 1991.  FOTO: Tor Ole Ree/Svalbardposten

Se bildet større

124 names are engraved into the monument. All of them lost their lives working for Store Norske. Geir Arne Jakobsen was born in Svalbard and is the only person whose hometown was Longyearbyen. FOTO: Hilde Røsvik

Se bildet større

The one-ton mining memorial is lifted into place. FOTO: Frank Robert Jakobsen

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