Blacksville, WV Mine Explosion, July 1972


Blacksville, W. Va. (AP) -- Rescue workers today neared completion of a shaft they were drilling into a burning coal mine where nine men were trapped, but hope was diminishing that they would be found alive.
"We have found nothing thus far ... to give us any encouragement," said Hazlett Corchran, a spokesman for Consolidated Coal Co., owner of the mine.
The 5-inch bore hole was at a site about a mile and a quarter from the fire, at a spot where the trapped men might have sought refuge.
Cochran said the hole "will permit us to determine air quality ... and tell us whether or not the air is capable of sustaining life."
Also, microphones will be dropped into the hole. In addition, geologists spread a network of geophones around the area of the bore hole. These are able to detect sounds or vibrations from deep within the earth, but at mid-morning had picked up no sounds.
There has been no word from the nine men since shortly after the fire erupted Saturday evening. And, officials of the Consolidated Coal Co.'s Blacksville No. 1 mine said chances the men would be found alive were "quite dim."
"I don't think I am stating anything but a fact, " John Corcoran, Consol president, said. He called the situation a "tragedy."
The bore hole was being drilled in an attempt to reach the men or possibly communicate with them. Failing that, officials hoped to learn something about conditions in the mine 50 feet below the rolling hills of this West Virginia - Pennsylvania border community.
An official of the U.S. Bureau of Mines said temperatures in the immediate area of the fire probably were between 2,500 and 3,000 degrees fahrenheit.
Corcoran said at a news conference he felt conditions for rescuing the trapped miners were
"not favorable."
Rescue efforts have been hampered by the fire which continues to burn in the soft coal veins that underlie the area.
Efforts to put the fire out with foam have been stymied because workers were unable to get behind the fire.
The fire was ignited Saturday evening when a heavy piece of mining machinery being relocated in the mine corridor about a mile from the lone elevator shaft hit a live electrical wire.
The sparks apparently ignited a quantity of hydraulic fluid in the mining machine. Then, the flames reportedly spread to the coal itself.
Of the 40 men then performing routine maintenance duties in the four-mile mine, officials said 31 reached the surface safely in a matter of minutes.
The fire had been localized Sunday night in an area about 400 square feet in size and less than a mile from the mine entrance, Consol officials said.
W. A. Park of the Bureau of Mines said success in putting out similar fires in the past, even with foam, had been "not good."
Corcoran told news media representatives, some members of the families of the nine missing men were maintaining a vigil around the entrance to the mine.
Other relatives, he said, had returned to their homes with assurances they would be notified of any developments.
Officials said more than 100 rescue workers, divided into 14 teams, were involved in the search.
"There is always hope," Leonard Pnakovich, vice president and spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, said.
"Men have been brought out alive several days after such incidents," he told reporters. But his optimism was cautious.
Pnakovich placed the blame for the fire squarely with the company. He accused Consol of being negligent in failing to enforce a state mining law requiring evacuation of miners from an area where heavy machinery is being moved.
Corcoran answered, "There is a legal requirement that workmen do not go in by the air currents where a machine is being moved. It would appear that on this particular occasion some of the men were where the machine was being moved. Why they were there, we don't know."
Only a handful of men were required to move the mining machinery, and under the state law the other miners apparently should not have been in the area.
Pnakovich accused Consol officials of negligence.
"It's a stupid thing ... idiotic," he said.
He said legal action against Consol, which owns the Farmington No. 9 mine where 78 men lost their lives in 1968, might be taken.
Corcoran described the objective of the rescue operation as two-fold -- "find the men and put out the fire." He was flanked at the news conference by officials of the Bureau of Mines, the state Department of Mines and the UMW and other company officials.
The conference punctuated an almost total news blackout that had been in effect since early Sunday morning.
Roads leading to the mine site were barricaded by police.
Earlier reports said the trapped miners had made contact with the surface by telephone about 20 minutes after the fire broke out. "They were told to head for a ventilation shaft. They haven't been heard from since," a company spokesman said.

Blacksville, W. Va. (AP) -- Consolidated Coal Co. Sunday released the names of nine men trapped by a fire deep inside its Blacksville No. 1 mine.
The men were identified as:
TERRANCE STONEKING, 29, of Mount Morris, Pa.
FREDERICK PHILLIPS, 42, of Mount Morris, Pa.
JUSTIN A. BEACH, JR., 23, of Morgantown.
CONRAD J. BELT, 34, of Morgantown.
BILLY MURRAY, 37, of Morgantown.
ROY SISLER, 24, of Morgantown.
ROY DALTON, 42, of Morgantown.
KENNETH HAYNES, 21, of Morgantown.
ROBERT TRESSLER, 32, of Morgantown.
Officials of the firm said BEACH was foreman of a crew which was "cribbing," the process of shoring up the walls of the room they were working in, when the blaze erupted Saturday night. There were five men in his crew.
The other four men were reported in another chamber of the mine moving some equipment.

Charleston Daily Mail West Virginia 1972-07-24



Blacksville, W. Va. (UPI) -- Authorities abandoned efforts Monday to rescue nine men trapped more than a mile from the surface of a burning coal mine and sealed the mine with the victims entombed inside.
"There is no possibility of continuing the rescue operations," John Corcoran, president of Consolidated Coal Co. told a hastily called news conference. "We are currently in the process of sealing the mine."
With sweat pouring from his forehead, Corcoran told the miners' families that after an explosion in the area of the fire Monday afternoon, officials had "no alternative" but to seal the mine located in this northern West Virginia community of 211 residents. The families then returned to their homes.
"They've been extremely patient, very understanding," Corcoran said later. "It's been tremendous the way they have been taking hold of themselves."
In November, 1968, Corcoran also had to inform the families of 78 miners who were killed in the explosion and fire at the Farmington mine, about 20 miles south of here. The bodies of 56 miners still remain entombed at Farmington.
Corcoran said a "minor explosion" triggered by highly volatile methane gas occurred about 2:42 p.m. EDT in the Blacksville mine in the area where the fire had been confined by specially trained crews using foam. He said about 50 rescue workers were inside the mine when the explosion occurred but that all escaped without injury.
"The explosion took place after methane readings in the fire area began to climb. We immediately began taking out the rescue teams."
Corcoran assured the grieving families at Blacksville that rescue workers would continue drilling a five-inch hole into a tunnel area where officials felt four of the nine miners may have sought refuge to escape the smoke and fumes from the fire.
"We will continue drilling the hole, but we know it will only tell us what we already know," Corcoran said.
By late Monday the hole had been drilled wo within 70 feet of the tunnel to a depth of about 660 feet. When the hole penetrates the tunnel instruments will be used to check air quality and microphones used to check for signs of life.
Just minutes after Corcoran's announcement, crews began the task of sealing the mine, one of Consolidation Coal's most modern which had opened just four years ago.

The Daily Register Burlington North Carolina 1972-07-25