West Frankfort, IL Coal Mine Gas Explosion, Dec 1951
FEAR 100 DEAD IN MINE BLAST.
FIRST BURNED AND MANGLED BODIES FOUND.
TAKE OUT 28 VICTIMS AS RESCUE CREWS TRY TO REACH TRAPPED MEN.
West Frankfort, Ill -- (AP) -- Hopes faded last night for the rescue of from 50 to 60 men trapped in an explosion-shattered coal mine after 28 burned and torn bodies were brought to the surface.
Sweating rescue crews continued their desperate probing through thick smoke and gas to reach the men 550 feet underground at the Orient No. 2 mine near here.
Appeals were broadcast for more rescue volunteers.
Sobbing wives, sisters and children of the trapped men waited courageously for word from the men who had been working on their last shift before the Christmas vacation.
The terrific violence of the underground blast Friday night was shown in the mutilated condition of the bodies brought up.
Estimates of the possible toll ranged to more than 100.
WALTER EADIE, state director of mines and minerals, believed the death toll would be about 80.
A pit boss, DENEEN TAYLOR, predicted the deaths would go above 100.
Mine Superintendent JOHN R. FOSTER predicted the final toll would be "over 70."
EADIE said the explosion probably was caused by an accumulation of methane, a type of gas frequently found in coal mines.
A spark could have set off the gas, he said.
Experienced miners held little hope for the trapped men.
They theorized that all had died -- either in the explosion, or from lack of oxygen.
Members of the rescue teams described scenes of underground horror -- hair standing straight up on the head of one body; other bodies pressed close to the floor as if the men made final, desperate clutches for life-giving air; bodies with limbs ripped off; others roasted.
Twenty-five of the 28 recovered bodies have been identified.
They were taken to a temporary morgue at the junior high school.
Four men, who survived the blast with injuries, got out Friday night.
The mine, owned by the Chicago, Wilmington and Franklin Coal Co., is oneof the world's largest shaft soft coal producers, producing three million tons annually.
It includes 12 miles of sprawling tunnels.
Sobbing Woman Wait.
It was a cold, grey day in West Frankfort.
In the gloomy concrete building sheltering the main shaft, about 30 wives and mothers waited for word from the vast underground diggings.
Some sobbed, handkerchiefs to their faces. Others sat in stoic silence. One grief-stricken woman stood alone in a corner.
Down a long corridor -- and out of their view -- was the shaft entrance.
Acid fumes steamed into the building each time the vault-like steel elevator door was opened.
The bodies, shapeless on stretchers, under wool blankets, were carried outside to ambulances.
Other relatives and friends waited in automobiles. A state trooper estimated that 800 cars were parked along roads in the area.
Gov. Adlai Stevenson made a hurried trip in from the state capital at Springfield.
After conferring with mine officials he said there were indications that between 60 and 90 miners were unaccounted for.
The exact number could not be determined because many of the survivors, instead of checking in at the lamphouse, went back into the pit to help with the rescue work.
"I wish there was something I could say or do to help," said Governor Stevenson. "But I guess all I can do is pray."
"I hope people will send me contributions for the dependents of the dead and injured at this Christmas season."
"I have already solicited and received some. It is a very sad Christmas here in southern Illlinois."
Stevenson said he hoped the explosion was not due to anything that a modern mine safety code could have prevented.
The mine, manned by John L. Lewis' United Mine Workers, was inspected by a certified examiner at 6 p. m. Friday, after the day shift came off duty.
A total of 1,100 men work the diggings, producing about three million tons of bituminous a year.
Asked if any special investigation was planned, Stevenson said "there is nothing to do now until an inspection is made."
A West Frankfort national guard company, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross were lending a hand. The Red Cross rushed in oxygen equipment and blankets from St. Louis.
It reported that voluntary donors, rallying to the cause after the explosion, had given enough blood for any emergency.
"Look Like Roasted."
West Frankfort, Ill. -- (AP) -- A rescue worker at the coal mine disaster here said yesterday he saw several bodies "that looked like they had been roasted."
HERMAN MELVILLE, relieved after 12 hours of continuous work underground added:
"The explosion was so violent, that an eight-ton piece of machinery was knocked off its rails."
ANother rescue worker said the inside on the mine "looked like you took a bomb and dropped it into a subway."
ALEX BALABAS, who was in the pit when the blast rocked it last night, told newsmen the explosion was followed by "an air blast that hit us like a big wind."
"All of a sudden the air was full of dust and it was hard to breathe," he added. "By the time we got into the elevator cage 10 minutes had passed and smoke was pouring into the shaft."
BALABAS was given first aid for smoke and dust inhalation.
LLOYD DUPRE, whose father was listed as killed in the blast, also helped with rescue apptempts. Of the mine he said:
"It's all blown to hell. It looks like we lost them all."
Waterloo Daily Courier Iowa 1951-12-23
ONE MINER IS FOUND ALIVE.
WARM BODIES INDICATE SIX ALIVE MONDAY.
WITH DEATH TOLL AT 119 ONE OF LAST TO DIE LEFT MESSAGE TO WIFE.
West Frankfort, Ill. -- (AP) -- One miner was rescued from a 56-hour entombment Monday after the nation's worst mine tragedy in 23 years claimed 119 lives.
Taken from the shaft 550 feet below the surface was CECIL SANDERS, 44, of Benton, Ill.
He was taken to the United Mine Workers hospital in fair condition.
Shortly after SANDERS was brought to the surface, Mine Superintendent JOHN R. FOSTER said:
"There are five men down there -- no more alive. We believe that is all."
One Leaves Message.
The discovery of the last of the 119 bodies on the day before Christmas added a poignant chapter to the desperate rescue efforts that have been in progress day and night since the violent explosion shattered the Orient No. 2 mine Friday night.
Morgue attendants reported one of the six bodies found early Monday still was warm.
Found on the body of B. R. WILLIAMS, about 40, of West Frankfort, was this final message scrawled on the inside of a cigaret package and addressed to his widow, LAURA:
"I love you all way (sic). I go tonight with Christ. I love Him too."
When SANDERS' was brought to the surface there were unconfirmed reports that a few other miners had been found alive.
Flicker Of Hope.
This sent a faint flicker of hope through the saddened crowd of relatives waiting at the mine's surface entrance.
Later investigation led to FOSTER'S statement that no more of the entrapped miners survived the terrific blast which killed men as far as two miles apart.
All but five of the bodies have been recovered from the debris-littered shafts.
One miner died Sunday night in a hospital of injuries received in the explosion. He was RALPH KENT of Marion, Ill.
W. W. LAMONT, hospital superintendent, said condition of the last bodies removed from the mine indicated at least six still had been alive as late as Monday morning.
Some of the bodies were warm when rescuers reached them.
Had Head In A Hole.
One of the bodies was found with its head in a hole that had been hastily dug in a desparate search for life-sustaining air.
The blast ripped through the tunnels at 7:35 p.m. (CST) Friday.
It occurred about two miles back from the shaft.
And it shattered timbers for three miles in the sprawling mine which covers a 12 mile area.
Most of the trapped miners never knew what hit them. Physicians said death in most cases was quick.
The bodies were horribly burned and mutilated. Limbs were ripped from some. Others were roasted.
Grave concern in the blast was shown in the flight here from Washington of Oscar Chapman, secretary of the interior, John L. Lewis, United Mine Workers president, and John Forbes, director of the U. S. bureau of mines.
Waterloo Daily Courier Iowa 1951-12-24
Listing Of Casualties:
ROY B. BEATY.
WM. W. BELL.
ASTON LEE BUFFORD.
PAUL VIRGIL DOLLINS.
JOSEPH L. FITZPATRICK.
WM. D. SANDERS.
CHALON HOWARD SMITH.
JOHN D. THOMAS.
LOUIS A. TRAPPER.
CHARLES H. WHITLOW.
EARL R. REES.
JAMES WM. FAIRBANKS.
JOHN E. HAYNES.
WALTER L. WOODWARD.
ESTEL JAMES BRADLEY.
REV. ORAL BRADLEY.
LONNIE J. CAIREL.
CHARLES E. BOYD.
JOHN F. BENNETT.
JAMES H. WILLIAMS.
JAMES L. BLACK.
JAMES O. CANTRELL.
GEORGE R. DUNLAP.
HENRY OTIS HARPER.
HERSCHEL C. HARRIS.
ROY L. NEIBEL.
R. L. NEWELL.
MAX P. NOLEN.
ELLIS REACH, JR.
ELLIS REACH, SR.
JOHN SADOSKI, JR.
CHARLES R. SMITH.
EARL H. SMITH.
GEORGE R. SMITH.
WM. R. SMITH.
B. R. WILLIAMS.
W. E. WILSON.
WM. ZELL YATES.