Robinson, WV Coal Mine Explosion, Nov 1980


Robinson, W. Va. (AP) -- Rescue workers wearing gas masks to guard against deadly fumes early today located the bodies of five miners trapped by an explosion deep inside a coal mine.
The bodies were found at about 2 a.m. EST, a little less than 24 hours after a blast and fire in an isolated section of Westmoreland Coal Co.'s Ferrell No. 17 mine unleashed toxic methane fumes. The blast was so strong that it blew large cinder blocks 150 feet, according to United Mine Workers President Sam Church.
"If the explosion had not extinguished itself, it could have been considerably worse," said Everett Acord, UMW safety director.
Rescuers left the bodies where they were, in area about 2 1/2 miles into the mine and 300 feet deep.
They did not intend to remove them until the gas has been flushed out, according to Charles Brinley, a Westmoreland vice president.
Steve Anderson, Westmoreland's chief spokesman, said the blast was caused by a buildup of methane resulting from improper ventilation and said the company took responsibility for the accident.
"Westmoreland is taking the blame for this. The lawyers would jump all over me if they heard me say this," Anderson said. He said he did not know exactly what went wrong with the ventilation system.
He described the deaths as an "unnecessary and unhappy event."
The five "more than likely were killed instantaneously," Acord said.
"It look to me like they were all pretty close together," Acord said.
Two of the bodies were found near the engine of a shuttle car and the other three were found nearby, Brinley said. It appeared that the first two had been blown out of the engine, Church said. "One had been blown some 50 feet," he said.
Miners' families and ambulance crews had kept a grim vigil at the entrance to the mine as the rescuers worked. Officials had held out little hope that the men would be found alive.
"It doesn't look good," Church had said after flying to the southern West Virginia mine from union headquarters in Washington, D.C. Gov. Jay Rockefeller also went to the scene.
"Everybody's scared. You don't know what to expect," said ROGER HOOKER, a rescuer who stood outside the mine waiting his turn to go in.
The five miners were repairing shuttle car tracks when the explosion occurred and a fire broke out. The nearest miners, working about a mile away, did not initially realize what had happened, and that delayed attempts to rescue the five, company officials said.
Rescuers were then hampered by fumes. Air in the shaft became unbreathable within 6,500 feet of the trapped miners, and the rescuers were forced to rebuild the mine's ventilation system as they moved along, officials said.
The victims -- all from Southern West Virginia -- were:

Indiana Gazette Pennsylvania 1980-11-08