Wilkes-Barre, PA Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Co. Explosion, Oct 1896


Fatal Explosion of Mine Gas in South Wilkes-Barre


Of these Two Were Leading a Part of Rescuers—it is Feared That Twelve Others Were in the Mine, and Have Surely Perished.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. Oct. 30---A terrible explosion of gas occurred in No. 3 mine of the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company in South Wilkes-Barre yesterday afternoon.

Six men are known to be dead and three injured. It is not yet known how many men were in the mine at the time of the explosion, but twelve are reported missing and it is believed all of these have perished. The dead who have been brought to the surface are:

William R. Jones, fire boss
John Joseph, Assistant Mine Foreman
Thomas Owens, Miner
William Lacey, Rock Miner
James Herron, Laborer
Joseph Worth, Fire Boss

All leave families. They were horribly burned and hardly recognizable.

The cause of the explosion will probably never be known. The mine was idle for the day. Usually there are 400 to 500 men employed in the mines. Had they all been at work when the explosion had occurred the loss of life would have been fearful.

The only men in the mine yesterday afternoon were the company hands and fire bosses, who were at work in the rock tunnel changing the air course. The place was very gaseous, and men worked with safety lamps. It was believed the gas was ignited by a blast. David William’s, the driver boss was at the head of the slope, 500 feet away, when the explosion occurred, and was hurled some distance and injured. He was the only one in the vicinity who escaped alive.

The explosion was so severe that it was plainly felt at the mouth of the shaft. The roof of the fan house was blown off and all the airways and brattice inside were wrecked and blown away.

The alarm was promptly given, and hundreds of men, women and children rushed to the mouth of the shaft. The grief of the womankind who had husbands, sons or brothers in the mine was heartrending.

The work of the organizing rescue gangs was begun without delay. It was a perilous undertaking as the sequel proved, but no man faltered. Fire Boss William R. Jones and Assistant Mine Foreman John Joseph selected the men for the first party, and themselves led the way. All were overcome by the dread afterdamp, but not until they had found Driver Boss David William’s. All except Joseph succeeded in reaching the foot of the shaft and were removed to the surface, but the old fire boss. William R. Jones succumbed to the deadly firedamp and died in half an hour after being brought out. John Joseph, the other hero became separated from the first party, and the second rescuing party found his body and removed it to the surface.

A number of company men who worked in a different part of the mine reached the surface by the No. 5 shaft and also another opening. It is not thought possible to reach the four men in the rock tunnel until the air currents are opened.

Superintendent Lawall and other officials of the Lehigh and Wilkesbarre Company were early on the scene. Lawall believes there maybe six men inside yet, but an old miner insists that there are twelve. It is the general supposition that all are dead. A rescue party of twelve men in charge of Mine Foreman John F. Jones is slowly making way to the rock tunnel and building an air passage to the entire distance to insure safety. The mine damp is very bad, and the work of rescue is progressing at great risk.

The News, Frederick, MD 31 Oct 1896