Hyden, KY Coal Mine Explosion, Dec 1970
SAFETY INFRACATIONS NOTAED AS KY. MINE YIELDS 38 BODIES.
Hyden, Ky. (AP) -- Rescue workers found two more bodies deep inside a mountain today, bringing to 38 the number killed in a searing blast at a mine cited earlier this year by federal inspectors for safty violations.
A four-inch layer of snow had some traces of the disaster at the Finley Coal Co. as the bodies were carried to the surface.
H. N. KIRKPATRICK, state commissioner of mines, announced the mine was being closed until Saturday morning when inspection teams will move into the operation.
The only known survivor of the blast was hospitalized with minor injuries, incurred when he was blown back out of the tunnel. CHARLES FINLEY, co-owner of the mine, acknowledged there were "small violations" charged by federal inspectors under the new Mine Safety Act but declined to elaborate.
"I'd rather not answer too many of those questions," FINLEY told newsmen gathered at the headquarters for the rescue teams.
FINLEY, sleepless after a night-long vigil, said there were about 100 miners employed on three shifts inside the nonunion plant. He said their pay averaged "better that $24 a day."
The original list provided by the company showed 39 men were working Wednesday afternoon when the blast occurred. But officials said one of the men apparently was not in the mine.
Commissioner KIRKPATRICK also said he believed all victims had been removed from the mine, five miles from Hyden.
President Nixon, prevented by bad weather from flying to the site, expressed his sympathy to the families of the victims, relaying his message through Gov. Louie B. Nunn.
Nunn said the President, during a telephone conversation, "advised me that he would support any additional legislation that was determined to be needed, and would be helpful in eliminating mine tragedies."
"Further, he said that the effort eo enforce existing legislation, which he signed into law, would be redoubled."
EVERETT BARTLETT, supervisor of the Hazard district of the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals, attributed the disaster to one of two things:
"Either they were shooting dynamiting the coal in there or it was a blown electrical cable."
In federal inspections earlier this year, the mine was cited for a variety of mine safety law violations, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
The newspaper said records show that in June a federal inspector found an "imminent danger" because of loose coal and coal dust accumulations and ordered mining stopped. It resumed operations three days later after deficiencies were corrected.
More irregulatities were found in October and on Nov. 23, according to the Courier-Journal. There was no indication that the earlier violations were related to Wednesday's blast, the newspaper said.
CLIFFORD FINLAY, a relative of the mine owner, was in the mine shop about 50 feet from the main entrance when the explosion occurred.
"It was a blowin' noise, something like air coming out of a tire suddenly," he said. "I've been in the mines since 1949 and this never happened."
FINLAY immediately ran to two mine openings to see whether the fans were still operating. "I knew that had to have ventilation if they were going to survive," he said.
Both fans were working, but as it turned out the men in the mine apparently were beyond the need of an air supply.
FINLEY, who went in with an early rescue party, said the victims he saw were badly burned and appeared to have died instantly.
One worker, A. T. COLLINS, was about 10 feet inside the mine when the detonation came about 12:20 p.m. He was hurled 30 feet but escaped with minor injuries.
Gov. Louie B. Nunn, who came here from Frankfort, set up temporary headquarters in a metal hut a few hundred yards from the main entrance to the mine.
He telephoned the White House, which offered federal aid, but Nunn said he replied that "nothing more could be done at the moment."
As word of the tragedy reached Hyden, the seat of the second poorest county in the nation, relatives began flocking to the site, about one mile up a dirt road.
"Oh Lord, I hope my baby's alive. I only had two left, Lord, and I started with five. I had to give up my youngest one two years ago," said LAURA MORGAN, whose son, RUSSELL, 33, was among the missing.
"Oh, Jesus. Jesus -- children," she moaned. "He had a good education, but he had to go into the mines."
Family members, sensing that the men would not come out alive, frequently composed spontaneous eulogies for them.
One victim's wife cried out, "He never did cuss or drink or do any running around -- he didn't even know what it was like. He told me never to let my children want for nothing."
The coal digging operation consisted of two mines designated at No. 15 and No. 16. They were connected beneath the ground and a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Mines said both probably were involved in the blast.
Nunn said both the federal and state governments were making a full investigation. The governor sent mining experts to the site shortly after the disaster was reported to him.
Rescuers initially probed about 1,900 feet into the mine but were driven off by deadly carbon monoxide gas.
About 6 p.m., another rescue operation was started.
The crowd had swelled to more than 200 by the time the first bodies were brought to the surface. They were taken to a makeshift morgue set up in the gymnasium of the Hyden grade school. Some were identified by name tags they wore or by information in their billfolds.
H. N. KIRKPATRICK, state commissioner of mines and minerals, said that after all the bodies were removed, the mine would be sealed to "rest for a few days" before the federal-state underground investigation began.
STANLEY FINLEY, a coowner of the mine, provided a list of the missing. He said the men were three hours away from the 3 p.m. end of their work day when they were trapped.
FINLEY said he could offer no explanation for the blast.
The worst disaster in Kentucky coal mining history occurred on Aug. 4, 1917, when 62 were killed at the No. 7 mine of the Western Kentucky Coal Co. near Clay.
The previous second high toll was on Christmas Day 1945, when 31 died at the Straight Creek mine in neighboring Bell County, 20 miles from Hyden.
Leslie County Judge GEORGE WOOTON, who passed through the crowd of friends and relatives of the miners, encouraged them to keep up their hopes.
"This is the most terrible thing which has happened to us in my time," he said. "We have so many problems here it seems unfair for this to happen to us."
Leslie County is one of the most remote and underdeveloped counties in the state. Its single industry is the mining of coal.
"It's a damned hard life," observed LEON ROARK, whose brother-in-law was among the missing.
ROARK, who gave up the mines after suffering a crushed disc in his spine, said, "If I have any say so, no son of mine is ever going to go down under."
The Charleston Daily Mail West Virginia 1970-12-31