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Hitchman Coal and Coke Company
Hitchman Mine Explosion

Benwood, West Virginia
May 18, 1942
No. Killed - 5



Another Coal Mine Explosion Kills 3
Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
May 19, 1942

McMechen, May 18. -- (AP) -- A heavy explosion, the second coal mine blast in West Virginia within six days, killed three men and severely burned two others early today at the Hitchman Coal and Coke Company.

Eight men working a mile or more beyond the explosion area escaped unhurt.  They did not hear the blast and left their work only because the power was shut off.

The dead were:
  • Hardy Parks, 59
  • Mike Polus, 28
  • John Mojzer, 55
The bodies of Parks and Polus were recovered soon after the mishap but Mojzer's body was hidden under debris, which rescue crews began to clear away.

Daniel Polus, 22, brother of Mike, and Albert Valenbaid, 27, were badly burned but were able to walk from the mine with the assistance of some of the men who escaped.  They were taken to a hospital at Wheeling five miles away.

Those who escaped were Steve Sadaly, machine boss; Frank Vidie, straw boss; Louis Postle, Frank Swead, Vara Bozajkovic, Joe Colvin, Robert Rogers, Jr., and George Sage.

The explosion came less than a week after a disaster in the No. 3 mine of the Christopher Coal Company at Osage, near Morgantown last Tuesday.  Eight bodies of 56 men who died have not been recovered there.

Hitchman company officials said the explosion occurred about 2 a.m. and was localized about a quarter-mile from the foot of the 700-foot slope.  Those who escaped were a considerable distance farther inside.

A blast of flame which a witness described as "like a great flash of lightning" rolled out of the mine mouth, charring timbers of the tipple.  Windows in nearby houses and buildings were broken.

The mine is located over the corporate line of the town of Benwood but is within three blocks of the heart of McMechen, one of several industrial towns along the Ohio River south of Wheeling.

Normally employing about 300 men, the mine had a night crew of about 90 until two weeks ago when the shift was suspended.  That accounted for the fact that only 13 men were inside at the time of the explosion.



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