Wilburton, OK Gas Explosion In Coal Mine, Jan 1926 -- 65 Dead


WILBURTON, Okla., Thursday Jan. 14 (AP) — All hope that any of the ninety-three miners entombed in the Degnan-McConnell coal mine near here in an explosion late yesterday might still be alive was abandoned early this morning when sixty-five bodies had been located. Only eight of the 101 men in the workings when the explosion came escaped alive. These were negroes, of whom there were seventy-six among the trapped miners.

Fire added to the horror of the scene, but was brought under control and did not prevent the rescue teams from reaching many of the dead. The search for the remaining bodies is being continued.

The negroes who were rescued told of walking over the bodies of dead miners as they progressed from a small pocket under the main shaft to the manway from which they emerged. John Evans, white pit boss; A. D. Thomas, a mining engineer, of Hartshome, and two of his associates are among the victims.

All other mines in the Wilburton field closed soon after the explosion and their crews were rushed to the scene to aid in the rescue work. The wrecked mine was operated on a non-union basis.

Hysterical Relatives Gather

Trained rescue crews from Krebes, McAlester, Hartshorne and Haileyville tendered their assistance. The Wilburton Chapter of the American Red Cross served coffee and doughnuts from a hastily erected canteen. Hysterical relatives of the entombed men congregated about the entrance of the mine and remained there throughout the day. Sightseers flowed into Wilburton from many, surrounding cities and roads leading to the mine were lined with motor cars for miles.

Doctors and nurses with medical equipment were summoned from all near-by towns and a special train was brought here from McAlester to rush injured men to the hospital as soon as they were brought out. A specially equipped rescue car of the United States Bureau of Mines is being rushed here from Asbury, Mo.

An Italian miner took his small son into the mine this morning to "show him how it worked." They were among those trapped.

Seventy-five men composed the rescue crews, but only four could work at a time because of the narrow shaft. The work of clearing the tunnel to the remaining bodies may require between three and four days, it is believed.

The digging will continue until all of the bodies are recovered. The rescuers have reached a level of 198 feet, but the work from now on will be more difficult and slower. A steel basket, operated by a hoisting engine, was put in operation to lift debris to the surface.

After Julius Graham, one of the rescued negroes, had been taken from the shaft, he rushed back and saved his step-brother, Roy Gray.

Some Alive at Start

A rescue crew first started work at 10:30 P. M. yesterday and attempted to reach the trapped men through the air shaft which was still open. Some of the victims were still alive and conversed with the rescuers through the airshaft.

The survivors were huddled in a small space in the bottom of the shaft, in the midst of debris. Members of the mine rescue crew, carrying cages of canaries, descended to the bottom of the airshaft, but the birds were unable to withstand the damp fumes and the men did not go into the mine.

Jan. 15, 1926 edition of "The New York Times"