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Mine Disasters in
the United States


Pocahontas Fuel Company
Boisevain Mine Explosion

Boisevain, Virginia
February 27, 1932
No. Killed - 38



Additional Pocahontas
Fuel Company Disasters:  
Bishop No. 34 Mine Explosion, Feb. 4, 1957
Pocahontas Mine No. 31 Explosion, Dec. 27, 1957
Bishop No. 34 Mine Explosion, Oct. 27, 1958
Itmann No. 3 Mine Explosion, Dec. 16, 1972

From the Google News Archives:  External Link
(news links open in a separate window)


Blast Traps 38 Miners; Hope for Lives Fades as Gas Hampers Rescuers
Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
February 28, 1932

Pocahontas, Va., Feb. 27. -- (AP) -- Hope for the lives of 38 miners missing in the Boisevain mine of the Pocahontas Fuel Company, virtually was abandoned by rescue workers tonight.

The miners were trapped by an explosion shortly before they were to have concluded work on the night shift.

Rescue crews battled in vain throughout the day to reach the men but were forced back continuously by gas that filled the workings.

Thomas Stockdale of Bramwell, a West Virginia mine inspector, who headed the first rescue crews to go into the mine, said it was improbable that any of the men would be found alive.

Fifty rescue workers plunged into the task of erecting brattices to drive the poisoned air out of the mine and permit them to reach the basin main section two miles from the mine mouth, where the entombed men were working.  Stockdale, W. D. Prentiss, of War, another West Virginia mine inspector, and A. G. Lucas, of Norton, a Virginia mine inspector, headed for the rescue workers.

Families at Mine Mouth

Meanwhile crowds, composed principally of families of the missing men, milled about the main entrance where rescue headquarters were established.  One woman, Mrs. Tom Brooks, whose husband died a year ago, and whose son Burton, 21, is among the missing men, pleaded with rescue workers for assurances that her boy was safe.

One effort to reach the men from the West Virginia side at Jenkinjones, failed.  Rescue workers endeavored to penetrate to the explosion sector through a water drain but were forced back after pushing their way to within about 600 feet of the basin main section.

Two Negro miners who escaped from the section where their 38 fellow miners were entombed told tonight of their "luck."

They were Henry Watkins and Edward Kirtly, both of Bluefield, Va., who worked together in a mine room.  Smoke billowed into their working place, they said, and Watkins collapsed.  His companion picked him up and started from the mine, wondering meanwhile where the smoke came from.  As they neared the mine surface, Kirtly said a "jar" caused him to stagger under his burden.  He went out of the mine and turned his companion over to physicians.  The "jar" he believed, was the explosion that entombed the other miners.

10 to 15 Escape Injury

The source of the smoke that caused Watkins to collapse, Kirtly was unable to explain, but he believed it came from the Jenkinjones side of the large mine which has entries both in Virginia and West Virginia.

An undetermined number of other miners, estimated by company officials to be between 10 and 15, were to other sections of the mine at the time of the blast and escaped injury.

The cause of the explosion was undetermined.  Company officials said the mine was non-gaseous and expressed a belief that it might have been caused by the accidental igniting of a quantity of blasting powder.

One rescue worker was overcome when he endeavored to reach the missing men.  He was Lewis Monetagilone, chief inspector for the Pocahontas Fuel Company.  Brought from the mine he recovered quickly in the fresh air.

A pulmotor crew from the Bluefield fire department was sent to the mine and stood ready to administer first aid to rescue workers or to missing miners if they are found alive.

The mine, a drift operation with its entrance high up on a hillside, is one of the largest of several mines operated by the Pocahontas Fuel Company.  Operating only on half time it has employed 400 men on the day shift and 50 at night.


20 Bodies are Discovered in Virginia Mine
Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
February 29, 1932

Pocahontas, Va., Feb. 28. -- (AP) -- Twenty bodies of men who died yesterday when the Boisevain coal mine was shattered by an explosion were found tonight and rescue workers girded themselves for an all-night search for 18 men still missing.

Seven burned and mutilated bodies were brought to the surface and 13 more rested at the foot of the shaft until undertakers above could make way for them.  Six of those brought up were identified.

Early in the night searchers were hopeful that all 38 bodies would be found by midnight but as they crawled through the catacombed basin main section two miles from the entrance their task became more difficult and it was expected that the last body would not be found before tomorrow.

The six bodies identified were those of Burton Brooks, Charles Yates, J. L. Phipps, Clayton Hodge, Sam White and Ed Saunders, Negro.  Phipps was the father of 10 children.

The bitter cold of the night had driven most of the widows and children back to their homes by midnight.  Since early yesterday when most of the night shift failed to come out of the mine, they had stood before the roped-off entrance, for the most part silent and patiently awaiting word from the blast area, two long miles underground.  The 31 widows of the blast and their children waited just as quietly in their homes, knowing the only word now would be the identification of the bodies of husbands and fathers.

The rescue crews worked in relays of 50 or more, coming out when rest became necessary.  Although air conditions had improved considerably, the men still were hampered by piles of slate and splintered timbers that blocked the way into many of the working rooms and entries.  The mine departments of Virginia and West Virginia and men from the United States Bureau of Mines worked shoulder to shoulder in the wrecked mine, directing the crews in their work.

Coroner George W. Gilfraple started to hold an inquest as soon as the first bodies reached the surface but there will be no verdict for some time.  The mine, which is operated by the Pocahontas Fuel Company, was non-gaseous and officials still discussed the possibility that a powder explosion killed the men.

There were about 50 men of the night shift on duty when the blast occurred.  About a dozen escaped.  Records of the company showed that of the 38 men missing, all but seven were married.

The first two bodies were found beside a mine car and it was believed the men were car greasers.  They were reached after the rescue crews, commanded by A. G. Lucas, Virginia mine inspector, had spent hours erecting brattice after brattice to drive out the poison-laden air.  As the air behind one brattice cleared, the men advanced a few feet, erected another, waited until the air cleared and then repeated.  When they had penetrated through the main entry their work increased, for the large basin area was catacombed with entries and work rooms.

The crews were forced out of the mine once by the gas and when the struggle was resumed, they were further handicapped by great heaps of jagged slate and shattered mine timbers which jutted across passages.

Part of the men engaged in combing the shattered mine were inspectors ordered there by Robert M. Lambie, chief of the department.  Lambie said, "we do not recognize state lines when things like this occur."  The United States Bureau of Mines rescue car at Norton also was at the scene.

Efforts were made to penetrate to the basin main section through a water drain from Jenkinjones, on the West Virginia side of the mine, but it failed.

A crowd stood stoically behind the roped-off mine entrance awaiting definite word of those entombed below.  It was a crowd composed of the families and friends of the stricken men.  Curiosity seekers got no further than this town, where 30 West Virginia and Virginia State troopers turned them back by the hundreds.  All cars were stopped and a valid reason was necessary if any were permitted to go toward the mine.

An improvised morgue was ready near the top of the shaft and 15 embalmers were there to prepare bodies for burial.  Several doctors also were on hand to treat any found alive and to aid the rescue workers.

Among those who escaped were two negroes, Henry Watkins and Edward Kirtly, both of Bluefield, Va.  Watkins collapsed when smoke billowed into the room where they were working and he was carried out by Kirtly.  The latter said that as they neared the mine surface he heard a "jar" which he believed was the explosion that entombed the others.  Watkins was placed in the care of physicians.


Company Lists Men
Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
February 29, 1932

Pocahontas, Va., Feb. 28 -- (AP) -- The number of men entombed by an explosion at the Boisevain mine of the Pocahontas Fuel Company yesterday was placed at 38 today by the company in issuing a list of those missing.

The list included 26 white men and 12 Negroes.  All but seven were married but the lists did not identify the unmarried men.  Those trapped by the explosion were:

Sid Thomas
Warren Harless
Clayton Hodge
J. L. Phipps
Dave Wise
Walker Thomas
Robert Hardy
Orbie Hardy
O. R. Jones
L. A. Brown
Mason Shupe
Burton Brooks
Tom Yates
Charles Yates
Garnett McCormick
James Hardy
John Hecky
Sam Abrams
C. R. Brown
Sam White
Claude Baldwin
Homer Baldwin
Garnett Shupe
Monty Miller
John Baker
Victor Auguieleo
Negroes
Dallas Fitzgerald
Ed Pergram
Sam Robinson
Lewis Moton
Lee Baker
Will Johnson
William Saunders
Ben Saunders
Ed Saunders
Brady Adams
W. S. White
Howard Petty



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