Twin Buttes, AZ Copper Pit Mine Explosion, Sept 1964


The open pit copper mine explosion which killed two men and injured fire others near here yesterday afternoon probably was touched off by a falling rock which landed on an explosive charge, it was indicated today.
LANDEN STANDIFER, JR., 19, a powderman's helper and one of the injured, said he watched in horror as the rock dislodged itself and fell in the vicinity of the explosives. The blast followed immediately STANDIFER said.
State Mine Inspector Roy V. Hersey said the cause isn't being officially designated until his deputies wind up their investigation at the scene.
However, he said, preliminary indications are that it occurred as STANDIFER said it did. Sunch an accidental hit is quite capable of exploding a charge, he said.
One mine official estimated that more than 3,000 tons of rock came tumbling down on the two men who were killed.
A series of charges being prepared to break up a section of ore-laden earth went off before it was supposed to explode.
The tragedy occurred about 2:30 o'clock in the pit of Pima Mining Co. in the Twin Buttes area, about 25 miles southwest of Tucson.
The dead were EMSLEY L. STURGILL, 40, of 3027 N. Winstel Blvd., and BERYL MILLER, 40, of 4308 E. Whitman St.
One of the injured, MANUEL C. LAZONO, 28, of 2626 E. Cochise Vista, remained in critical condition today at St. Mary's Hospital.
In fair condition at the same hospital were LOYD ALUMBAUGH, 27, of P.O. Box 622; CHARLES E. DOWNING, 40, of 533 W. Calle, Antonia; STANDIFER, 19, of 925 W. Columbia St., and ANTONIO MAJALCA, 52, of 712 W. Missouri St.
The bodies of the two dead men were not recovered by mine employes until nearly four hours after the blast. A huge crane and bulldozer were used to get them out.
The seven men made up a blasting crew and were setting up charges on the lowest level of the 520-foot-deep pit.
The charges consisted of more than 300 pounds of ammonium nitrate.
The sudden detonation crumbled a wall of the pit and sent it sliding down on them.
A. A. Friedman, resident manager of the mine, said the two dead men were buried under more than 3,000 tons of copper-laden rock.
"They were standing on the lowest level right under the wall in which the charge had been placed," he said.
"The other men were standing a little distance off and none of them were buried. But they were all struck by heavy pieces of flying rock."
Other workers in the pit were surprised by the blast and some men working as much as 500 feet away said they were showered by rocks.
The mine has always been proud of its safety record, said Friedman. It had been 222 days since a lost-time accident had occurred in the mining department. The firm opened the pit operation in 1957. Its only other fatal accident occurred in 1958 when two men were killed.
The investigation into the cause of yesterday''s tragedy is being conducted by deputy inspectors Jim White and Tony Bennett on the scene.
White said he expected to have a full report of the findings on Hersey's desk by Monday morning.
Hersey said that in three other similar explosions in Arizona in the past seven years, it was impossible to determine the cause of the prematurity of the blasts.
STURGILL'S body was taken to Adair Funeral Home; MILLER'S to Tucson Mortuary.

Tucson Daily Citizen Arizona 1964-09-05