Four miners were found alive after an undisclosed period following an explosion in the Cross Mountain mine at Briceville, Tennessee. Discovery of Andrew Johnson was made when a dead miner was found in a sitting position in one of the interior chambers. Johnson and the other three were suffering from blackdamp. Source document
From the New York Times
December 10, 1911
Briceville, Tenn., Dec. 9 -- Between 126 and 156 men are entombed here tonight in the great Cross Mountain Coal Mine of the Knoxville Iron Company. They had entered to begin the day's work when at 7:30 o'clock this morning a terrific explosion, which shook the county, wrecked the workings.
Three only have come out alive. They had entered a lateral off the main shaft and succeeded in getting into the open before the flames and smoke caught them. They are John Lang, Sam Farmer, and Bert Haymaker. Warned by the blast's rumble, they escaped before overtaken by flames. They say they observed had "signs" as they entered the mine. They believe the exact location of the blast is at least two miles in the interior and a thousand feet from the mountain crest.
The body of Lee Polston, operator of the mine's fan plant, was found first buried and mangled under the cave-in in the main shaft. Later two bodies were found by rescuing party within few feet of each other, badly blackened and mangled, near an air shaft 2,000 feet from the entrance.
The rescue work is under the direction of Supt. P. F. Lynch of the mine, President T. I. Stephenson of the operating company, and two crews from the mine rescue service of the Federal Government.
One of the latter is under the direction of Edgar S. Sutton, foreman miner in charge of the Knoxville rescue station, and the other under William Burke's engineer, in charge of mine rescue car No. 7, which reached Briceville at 5:30 o'clock this afternoon from Artemus.
Rescue workers are making scarcely any headway. The Government rescue car and force is on hand with rescuers and engineers from all over the district.
The shafts extend two miles into the mountain. According to President T. I. Stephenson of the iron company, the men, if they had reached their posts were in lateral shafts when the explosion occurred. This encourages those on the surface to hope that many may be living.
Rescue work was checked before 11 o'clock. Great billows of flame began to belch from the openings. Members of rescue squads who were driven from the mine declared they had advanced a mile into the main shaft, and that in that distance they had discovered no signs of the imprisoned men.
Just before they were driven out they encountered a cave-in in each of the entries. They found dense and compact deposits of slate, earth, rock, and coal in the main shaft of the mine, and also in an abandoned entry which had been used for an airshaft.
About the mouth of a vertical ventilator leading to the top of the mountain fires have been built to create, if possible, a circulation of air from within the mines.
It is not yet possible to determine whether this blockading of the entry is shallow or whether it extends hundreds of feet or a mile or more. Wood posts are trusses in the shaft have been blown outward, and this, miners state, is indicative of a serious explosion beyond. Brattices are being constructed by means of which air is being forced into the channel as fast as it is possible to remove the debris.
There are three theories as to the cause of the explosion. One is that in some manner powder or dust exploded, the second is that an electric wire came in contact with explosives, and the third that the explosion was caused by poor tamping of a drill.
The mine was thoroughly inspected Friday of last week by J. F. Hatmaker, who has been Inspector of the mine for eight years. He remained in the mine nearly all of Friday night. He said that there was no trace of gases when he emerged.
The mine also was recently inspected by an Inspector under George E. Sylvester, State Mine Inspector and a representative of a casualty company which carries insurance on the employes of the company, and is said to have reported that is was in excellent condition.
President Stephenson made the following statement late this afternoon:
"I deeply regret the accident in the mine, and I am bending every effort to rescue the men who are entombed. I am in hope that the men will be reached. According to the topography of the mine, the gases go generally into the entry in which the explosion took place. Most of the men in the place must have gone into the cross-sections where they are employed in mining, and this, therefore, causes me to believe that they escaped fatality, at least some of them."
President Stephenson declared he did not believe the casualties would be as large as were first reported. He did not believe there were many men in the mine at the time of the explosion.
He said the mine is usually manned by 126 workers, who were brought each morning to the mine in trains. Mr. Stephenson said he understood several of these trains were late this morning, which would have delayed the miners in getting into the shaft. He thinks large numbers of workers had not got into the mine before the blast.
The first intimation of the explosion was a slight concussion at the shaft; then smoke curled out from the opening.
Mr. Stephenson said he thought there would have been greater distrubance about the shaft opening if the explosion had been of tremendous force.
The rumble of the explosion brought great crowds to the mine opening, and company officials made immediate preparations to organize rescue operations. Throngs of women and children clamored to be allowed to make their way inside to aid in the rescue. Many of the women knew their husbands had entered the mine, but most maintained brave hearts. A majority of them had witnessed similar scenes.
Hugh Larue, a miner, owes his life to a dream his wife had last night. When he prepared this morning to go to his daily task Mrs. Larue refused to prepare his lunch. She did not want him to work. She said she dreamed she saw scores of miners with their heads blown off being carried out of the mine entrance as she and her children stood at the mine's mouth.
Larue had not missed a day from work for many months, but he was prevailed upon to-day to remain out of the mines. It was only a short time after Mrs. Larue recited her story when the explosion occurred.
Briceville, which is in Anderson County, has had a stormy history. It was the scene in the early nineties of rioting when miners rebelled against working with convicts leased by the State. Troops were sent there to quell the trouble. At Coal Creek, near there, on May 19, 1902, 200 men were killed in the Fraterville mine explosion.