Coalhurst, AB Coal Mine Explosion, Dec 1935

FIRST MINE BLAST IN HISTORY LOCAL COAL FIELD TAKES TOLL 16.

FIFTEEN OF THE SIXTEEN MISSING MINERS HAD BEEN FOUND AS THE HERALD EXTRA WENT TO PRESS. ALL WERE DEAD. THE OTHER BODY HAD BEEN LOCATED BUT NOT RECOVERED.

Colhurst, Alberta, Dec. 9 -- Explosion of gas in the Coalhurst mine of the Lethbridge Collieries Ltd., took toll of five lives late Monday afternoon.
Eleven miners were still entombed at nine o'clock Monday night, and little hope was held out for their rescue alive.
Three miners escaped the blast, and are in hospital at Coalhurst but will recover.
Twelve other miners who were in the mine at the time of the blast reached too unhurt.
It was the first explosion in the history of the Lethbridge coal field since it was opened by the Galts in 1883. It came in a manner entirely unexpected.
The whole of Coalhurst is grief stricken. More than 200 men, women and children, relatives and friends of the dead and entombed pit men are crowded around the pit mouth.
Mine rescue crews from Coalhurst and Lethbridge had reached about nine o'clock tonight the cave-in where the explosion occurred and indications were it would be some time before the cave-in could be dug away and the fate of the 11 missing miners learned.
R. LIVINGSTONE, manager of the Lethbridge Collieries, issued a statment from Coalhurst at 9 o'clock:
"One rescue team from Coalhurst has returned to the surface after exploring the part of the workings affected by the explosion. There were 16 miners and drivers at work at the time of the blast. Five bodies have been found, as yet unidentified. These bodies are still in the mine."
"Large crews of workmen are at present attempting to press their way through to the men still unaccounted for. Rescue parties are now up against the caved workings and progress is likely to be slow."
"The blast was apparently an explosion of gas but the cause has not been established. All of the men were equipped with safety lamps."
"The explosion occurred during the change of shift about 4:30. Fortunately only a small force were working. Coalhurst mine was to have been closed down in the spring when No. 8, the new mine across the river, get into production.
ANDREW KOCEL, miner, who reached safety though badly burned and battered, told the Herald he saw flames, then a terrible blast. He crawled on his hands and knees with two companions for 20 minutes to reach the shaft. He believed the blast was caused by the ignition of gas in the mine from sparks from telephone wires.
The manager of the mine is J. M. DAVIDSON. The pit boss is JOHN TEMPSON, and HARRY WHITE is the fire boss. Both TEMPSON and WHITE were in the mine at the time of the explosion. The Coalhurst rescue team of four men immediately went into the mine as soon as word reached the top, and they were accompanied by Mine Manager DAVIDSON and Mining Inspector J. B. DOFFART of Lethbridge. The Lethbridge Mine rescue team from No. 6 was called and rushed to the scene. All life saving apparatus available was rushed to the spot. A volunteer rescue team of Coalhurst miners was organized and was standing by.
The shaft at the Coalhurst mine is 564 feet deep. The blast and cave-in occurred approximately one mile from the shaft.
Following the explosion there was fear of fire damp, the after effect of an explosion, but this was not encountered in serious quantities, and rescue crews were able to reach the cave-in between 8 and 9 o'clock.
To a Herald reporter ANDREW KOCEJ, lying on his cot in Coalhurst hospital, told his story of the blast in his broken English:
"We had just passed other men going into the mine about three minutes before explosion. We were coming out. As we passed pipe man by name of GRESL he said, 'You go home?' I answered 'Yes.' We went about 50 feet. We saw sparks and fire. Then fire came like mighty wind. There was terrific explosion. Knocked me down. Threw me on rails. Cut knee to bone. I thought air pipe had broken, but that wasn't it."
KOCEJ'S belief is that a spark from telephone wires in the mine ignited gas in the mine causing explosion. His clothes were burnt, his hair singed, his eyebrows burned off, face blistered and his arms and hands are swathed in bandages.
"After the explosion we threw away dinner pails and crawled on hands and knees for 20 minutes to reach the shaft. The smell of gas was terrible. I choked, couldn't breathe for some minutes. Fire, rocks, dust all over, big noise, couldn't see. Covered face with hand and crawled."
SACARDO was the worst of the three injured men in hospital as in addition to his other injuries his ears were badly burned.
The three injured men, however, are not so badly hurt that they will not recover.
KOCEJ told the Herald he didn't think there was a chance in the world for the other men who formed the crew just going into the mine. They would be behind the cave-in caused by the explosion, and would be cut off from the shaft. It would take them 25 minutes to get from there to the air shaft.
A miner by the name of RABOBLE, the Herald was told at the hospital, would have been in the mine at the time of the blast had it not been that he remained on top because of the birth of a little daughter to his wife Monday afternoon at 2 o'clock.
The Coalhurst mine was opened by the North American Collieries Ltd., representing Lovatt and Greenshields interests of Montreal, in 1912. Prof. Pitcher of University of Alberta, was at one time manager of the mine.
Up until two weeks ago the mine had been working steadily. Had a full crew been employed at the time of the blast 200 men might have lost their lives. As it was the mine has been working short time for about two weeks, with only a skeleton crew of some 16 men a shift.
The following men were in the mine when the explosion happened but were able to reach the shaft and be hoisted to safety:
J. UVEGES.
J. JOURYHIK.
J. RAMAGE, JR.
W. RAMAGE.
M. RASKEVICH.
J. OLLECHOW.
B. UNCHELENKO.
G. STINE.
JOHN RAMAGE, SR.
M. MATLOCK.
L. FORMOS.
J. POPP.

BLAST VICTIMS:
Killed:
M. KADILAK, married, miner.
K. ZMURCHUK, widower, miner.
JAMES WORKMAN, widower, miner; has son at Coutts.
E. WILLIAMS, married, miner, two children.
A. ERMACORA, married, miner, father of Hector Ermacora, boxer.
L. GOSSUL, single, miner.
A. GRESL, married, driver, one son.
BILL LUKAS, married, driver, one child
A. SIMEONE, single, machine runner.
JOHN COOK, married, machine man's helper, five children.
A. PROKOP, married, machine driver, two children.
E. ROTA, married, machine man's helper, one child.
LOUIS GRESL, married, pipe man, two children.
FRITZ GRESL, married, pipe man, one child.
HARRY DUGGAN, married, pusher, two children.
J. SAROG, married, miner.
Injured:
J. SACARDO, single, miner. Hurt last January in mine explosion.
FRANK BRUSIK, single, miner. Worked in mine since 1920.
ANDREW KOCEJ, married, miner, three children. Worked at No. 6 mine for 12 years and at Coalhurst since 1924.
JOHN RAMAGE, JR., married, five children.

Lethbridge Herald Alberta 1935-12-10

Comments

Coalhurst Mine Disaster - Injured & Dead

The transcription of this Lethbridge Herald story has a typo. Listed near the end is 'Frank Brusik'. In fact that man was Frank Prusik, who lived probably until about 1969 in Pincher Creek.

Additional detail -- One of the dead listed is Louis Gresl, who had on that day swapped shifts with my Grandfather Frank Ditrich. At one point Grand Dad Frank was presumed dead, until he got back to Coalhurst from a shopping trip into Lethbridge with my Grandmother. The locals were shocked to see him still alive - and he was equally shocked to learn of the disaster. He immediately went to the mine to lend assistance.

Vince Ditrich