Police today named the four workers who perished in the Bristol sewage plant explosion, including a 16-year-old – after the devastated wife of one of the victims revealed her son had been due to work on the same spot.
Avon and Somerset Police said that Luke Wheaton, 16, Michael James, 64, Brian Vickery, 63, and Raymond White, 57, were all killed by a blast thought to have been caused by an exploding chemical tank.
In a statement, the force added that specially trained officers are supporting the victims’ families, while investigators will speak to the person who survived the blast and is now recovering from their injuries at home.
It came as other colleagues of the workers who died at Wessex Water Services Ltd in Avonmouth yesterday were said to be in a ‘state of shock’ after one was blown 500ft into a lake by the force of the blast.
Supt Simon Brickwood said: ‘I’d like to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the families of those involved in yesterday’s tragic incident. An investigation has been launched into the causes of the explosion, with the support of partner agencies and the Health and Safety Executive.
‘This is likely to be ongoing for some time and we will be keeping the victims’ families informed throughout. We appreciate the impact this incident has had on the local community and we thank those affected for their patience while our investigative work is carried out.
‘The local neighbourhood policing team is available to address any concerns members of the public may have. I’d like to pay tribute to those involved in the emergency response, who have been at the scene throughout the night under very difficult and challenging circumstances.’
Giles Hyder, HSE’s head of operations in the South West said: ‘We send our deepest condolences to the families of those who tragically died. It is important a joint investigation is carried out. We will provide specialist support to what is likely to be a complex investigation under the command of the police.’
Wessex Water CEO Colin Skellett said: ‘We are all absolutely devastated by what has happened. Our hearts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives during the tragic event on Thursday.
One of the workers who was killed was flung 500ft by the blast and was tragically found in the nearby lake
A mourner lays flowers at the scene of the disaster this morning to pay their respects to the four workers who were killed
Aerial view of the damage caused by the explosion at the water recycling centre which killed four people on Thursday
A major explosion at a Wessex Water sewage treatment plant near Bristol has left four people dead and one injured, emergency services have said
The incident happened at the recycling facility and water treatment works at Avonmouth in Bristol, south west England
‘I know from the thoughts and comments I have received from so many, that this has affected the whole Wessex Water family. I know Avonmouth, I worked there for many years, and I know the people, some of whom have lost their lives during this terrible incident.’
Today Brian Vickery’s wife Jane said her husband worked at Wessex Water for 42 years. She also revealed that she could have been robbed of two members of her family, if not for the fact their son had been on a holiday day.
Choking back emotion, she said: ‘Brian had worked there for 42 years. Our son works there but had a day off yesterday. If he had been there he’d be dead too. We didn’t hear anything for about five hours after it happened.’
Trade union Unite Unite’s regional secretary for the south west, Steve Preddy, said earlier today: ‘We can confirm that Unite has three members working at Wessex Water Services Ltd in Avonmouth. We have contacted them and they are, thankfully, uninjured, although in a state of shock.
‘Unite will be giving our members maximum support in the days and weeks ahead. Unite the union would wish to extend its deepest sympathy to the families of those employees who have lost their lives and as well as those injured in the explosion – our thoughts and solidarity are with all those affected by this tragic event.’
The chemical tanker blew up at around 11am yesterday. Witnesses were struck by the magnitude of the explosion, which shook nearby buildings and blew a body into a lake 500ft away.
Sean Nolan said: ‘It was quite short-lived, I’d say about two or three seconds. Sort of a boom and echo and then it just went quiet. That was it. There was no smoke, there was no after-effects of it.’ Keiran Jenkins, who was in a nearby warehouse, said he and colleagues stood rooted to the spot in shock as the walls trembled.
Emergency service crews launched a major operation involving two search and rescue dogs and six fire crews after the blast on the industrial estate off Kings Weston Lane.
Chief Inspector Mark Runacres of Avon and Somerset Police told a press conference yesterday night: ‘The fire service led the rescue operation but sadly, despite the best efforts of all those involved, we can confirm there have been four fatalities. This includes three employees of Wessex Water and one contractor.
‘Specially trained officers have this afternoon made contact with each of the families of those individuals and informed them of the sad news. This is a tragic incident and our thoughts and sympathies go out to them.’
He stressed there was no ongoing public health threat and revealed that the tanks had contained treated biosolids before they are recycled to land as an organic soil conditioner.
Luke Gazzard, who led the Avon and Somerset fire service response to the explosion, called it a ‘very challenging incident’. He added: ‘Our thoughts are with family, friends and colleagues of all those affected by today’s incident.’
Pictured from the scene appear to show extensive damage to a tank that has been ripped open by the explosion. Workers were understood to have been on the tank at the time of the blast
The view from the top of the plant gives an idea of the scale of the operation and where the accident happened in Bristol
Police and ambulance crews could be seen at the site today as investigations into the tragic explosion continued today
One of tribute notes left at the scene said ‘Thinking of my workmates and good friend Brian’ in respect to the four who died
Witnesses reported a ‘loud bang’ while others recalled seeing emergency services rushing to the industrial estate
One person said on social media they heard a ‘loud bang’ at the time of the explosion. Pictured: Fire crews at the scene
A road leading to the industrial area was closed off this afternoon as emergecy vehicles attend the scene and carried out a rescue operation
Luke Gazzard (left), Group Manager at Avon Fire & Rescue Service, and Chief Inspector Mark Runacres of Avon and Somerset Police (right) confirmed the four fatalities at a press conference at the site of the explosion this evening
Wessex Water chief executive Colin Skellett said the company were ‘absolutely devastated’ by the incident, and said it would be working with the Health and Safety Executive ‘to understand what happened and why.’
Mr Jenkins, who had been working nearby, said he and a colleague had heard the explosion and seen people running from the scene. He told the BBC: ‘We were inside the warehouse, the whole warehouse was shaking and we literally stood there in shock.
‘Next thing you know we looked out of the windows and all we could see was people running. We don’t know what happened. It was a bit of a shock really. Fingers crossed nobody was hurt and everything is alright. I heard a bang… we didn’t know what was going on.’
One person working nearby said: ‘All our windows rattled.’ Another added: ‘My better half is working in Avonmouth and their entire building rumbled and shook from it.’ Another witness they saw ‘at least ten ambulances’ along with police and fire crews heading to the scene, according to Bristol Live.
Jawad Burhan took a photo showing a tank that had exploded and said there was a ‘helicopter looking for missing people’. Police also closed a nearby road. He said: ‘I heard the sound, I’m working beside the building in another warehouse. After ten minutes I saw the helicopter coming and the police.’
A witness said earlier there was a ‘helicopter looking for missing people’ and police had closed a nearby road leading up to the building
A rescue operation was launched by the fire service, involving five appliances, two turntable crews and search and rescue dogs as emergency servuces confirmed there have been a number of casualties
Witnesses reported a ‘loud bang’ while others recalled seeing emergency services rushing to the industrial site earlier today
Boris Johnson led politicians in mourning the casualties and pay tribute to the emergency services. He tweeted: ‘Deeply saddened to learn that four people have lost their lives in the water works explosion in Avonmouth.
‘Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. Thank you to the emergency services who attended the scene.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote: ‘My thoughts are with all those who tragically lost their lives today in Avonmouth. My heart goes out to their friends and family. Thank you to our emergency services for all their work.’
Earlier Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted she was ‘deeply concerned’ by the explosion: ‘My thoughts are with those affected and our brave emergency services working hard to resolve this incident.’
Bristol North West MP Darren Jones said: ‘This is a serious incident and my thoughts are with those workers who have injured on site today.’ He added: ‘I’m grateful to our fire, police and ambulance staff for their quick response.‘
Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees added: ‘There has been a large explosion at the Wessex Water site on Kings Weston Lane in Avomouth. Thank you to @AvonFireRescue @ASPolice and @swasFT who are doing their very best to help all those involved. My thoughts are with anyone affected by this incident.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was ‘deeply concerned’ at news of the explosion in a tweet she posted on social media
Chief Inspector Runacres said officers were staying on the scene and were likely to be there for some time as he urged the public to steer clear
Police have closed the road leading up to the scene – an industrial area on the outskirts of Bristol
Crews from five different fire services were in attendance at the scene after the 11.20am blast
The explosion is understood to have taken place in an industrial area on the outskirts of Bristol
Avon and Somerset Police also reassured the public that the chemical tank explosion was not a danger to the public
Fires from the scene of the explosion (pictured on a Highways England Traffic camera) which took place this morning around 11am on King Weston Lane have been put out, said a fire service spokesperson
Crews from six different fire stations have been sent to the scene of the major explosion