Three miners were brought out by rescue crews about six hours after the explosion. They were identified as Larry Bailey, 23, of Brenton; Dallas Mullins, 32, of Pineville; and Jerry Billings. All three were said to be in critical condition.
A mine explosion occurred about 3:45 p.m., Saturday, December 16, 1972, along the combined haulage track and belt entry in the Cabin Creek 4 panel section.
At the time of the explosion, all section crews were on duty and shift changeout operations were occurring; the day-shift crews were either enroute to the surface, on the surface, or performing miscellaneous work tasks throughout the mine. A total of 121 men worked in the mine on the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift. The Cabin Creek 4 panel crew was in a portal bus enroute to the surface when the explosion occurred; five of the 8-man crew were killed and the other three men were burned severely and required hospitalization. None of the other shift employees were affected by the occurrence.
The explosion originated about 1,000 feet outby the section working faces and was confined to the Cabin Creek 4 panel section. An explosive methane-air mixture accumulated in No. 1 entry used for conveyor belt and track haulage and was ignited by the portal bus transporting the section crew to the surface.
The Itmann No. 3 mine is located at Itmann, West Virginia. The Itmann Coal Company, operated under a management agreement with the Pocahontas Fuel Company, is jointly owned by the National Steel Corporation (33-1/3 percent), Consolidation Coal Company (32-2/3 percent), Bethlehem Steel Corporation (25 percent) and the Dominion Foundries and Steel Ltd. of Canada (9 percent). The Pocahontas Fuel Company is a division of the Consolidation Coal Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Continental Oil Company.
At the time of the accident, a total of 292 men was employed, 290 worked underground, 3 shifts a day, 5 and 6 days a week, and produced an average of 3,500 tons of coal a day. Production during the year of 1972 was 670,011 tons of coal. The mine is opened by 3 drifts and 2 concrete-lined double compartment shafts, 503 and 365 feet in depth, into the Pocahontas No. 3 coalbed, which ranges from 40 to 48 inches in thickness locally. The floor is shale ranging from soft to firm. The immediate roof is about 14 feet of firm shale overlain with sandstone ranging from 40 to 70 feet in thickness.
The volatile ratio of the coal in this area indicates that the dust from this coal is explosive.
Federal safety inspections of the mine have been scheduled on a 5-day week basis since September 5,
1972, and a health inspection had been started of the entire mine prior to the explosion.
The mine experienced a coal-dust explosion on January 4, 1972, in which three men were injured. On June 19, 1972, methane was ignited at a working face when the cutting head of a continuous miner contacted sandstone roof. None of the face employees were injured by the ignition. During the year 1972 to the day of the explosion, the Bureau issued 4 orders of Withdrawal and 89 Notices of Violation at the mine, and none of these entered into or contributed to the explosion.
Evidence of Activities and Story of Explosion
Management decided to produce coal on Saturday, December 16, 1972, and the day-shift crew (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) consisting of 121 men, entered the mine about 8 a.m., and they were transported to their respective sections without incident.
Normal production operations continued in Cabin Creek 4 panel section throughout the shift. About 3:30 p.m., Larry Akers, section foreman, called his preshift examination report to the surface and the report was given verbally to John Sizemore, the oncoming section foreman, and about 3:35 p.m., Mullens likewise telephoned the surface with a repair parts list for the oncoming section electrician.
The portal bus used for transportation of the Cabin Creek 4 panel section crew was parked at the end of the haulage tracks, and the crew left the face working area about 3:40 p.m. The crew positioned themselves in the portal bus as follows: Larry B. Akers, section foreman, and Jerry R. Billings, shuttle-car operator and survivor, were in the open operator's compartment; Dallas Mullens, electrician and survivor, Larry E. Bailey, continuous-miner operator and survivor, Lacy
N. Akers, general laborer, and Bill Hatfield, shuttlecar operator, were in the closed compartment on the inby end of the vehicle; and Teddy D. McMillion, roof-bolt operator, and David R. Meador, Jr., general laborer, were in the closed compartment on the outby end of the vehicle. Billings stated that he usually operated the portal bus, but that Larry Akers on this occasion
operated the vehicle.
According to his sworn statements given during the Bureau's investigation, after the portal bus had traveled about 1,000 feet outby the section face working areas, Billings heard the trolley pole become disengaged from the trolley wire and he noticed the usual arc that occurs when the electrical contact between the trolley-pole harp and the trolley wire is broken. Billings turned to get out of the vehicle when the explosion occurred; he believes that he was partly knocked out of the vehicle and dazed by the explosion forces. Billings' face and hands were burned, and he
temporarily lost his vision because of the explosion heat and flames and the dense smoke and dust. Billings stated that after he had traveled about 200 feet inby the stopped portal bus, he realized that he was traveling in the wrong direction. He then stopped his travel and attempted to open his self-rescuer. He stated that after breaking the seal he could not pull the opening lever and that after several unsuccessful attempts, he attempted with his opened penknife to free the securing band from the case without success and broke the blade of the knife. Billings placed the self-rescuer in his coveralls and traveled back towards the portal bus.
Near the vehicle, Billings encountered McMillion, who was asking for help. Billings was unable to help McMillion because of his own injuries and he continued to crawl along the track outby the vehicle until he became unconscious. The self-rescuer that Billings attempted to open was
sent to the testing laboratories of the Bureau of Mines in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Laboratory technician examined the self-rescuer and determined that it opened easily and was in good working order. From the information obtained from Billing's testimony, the Bureau investigators concluded that the extensive burns to his (Billings) hands prevented him from donning the self-rescuer.
Mullens (survivor) in sworn statements mentioned that he got into the inby compartment of the portal bus and was the first man in the compartment. After the portal bus traveled a short distance, Mullens heard a whishing sound and felt a heat wave engulf him. He yelled for the other men to get out of the vehicle and began to climb over the other men and out the compartment opening. Thereafter, Mullens remembers being conscious only a few seconds near the vehicle.
According to sworn statements, Bailey was in the inby compartment of the portal bus with Mullens where the explosion occurred; he was quickly aware of the heat wave and jumped from the vehicle. Because of the smoke and dust and his burned face, Bailey likewise was unable to see. He managed to open and use his self-rescuer and traveled inby the portal bus checking
for a route to the No. 2 entry (intake escapeway). Bailey thereafter reversed his direction, passed the portal bus, and likewise encountered McMillion but was unable to help him. Bailey crossed the belt conveyor and traveled into the No. 2 entry and crawled outby until he became unconscious.
All other section production crews were unaware of the explosion and they traveled to the surface without incident. When the Cabin Creek 4 panel mantrip failed to arrive on the surface as scheduled and trolley phone communications could not be established with the portal bus, management became concerned. Continued examination of the Cabin Creek 4 panel section revealed that methane had been ignited by the portal bus about 1,000 feet outby the working faces. Five of the section employees died as a result of the explosion, and three other crew employees survived, although burned seriously. Fourteen stoppings between Nos. 1 and 2 entries and 16 stoppings between Nos. 2 and 3 entries were partially or totally destroyed. Some timbers were blown out, several small roof falls occurred, and a few conveyor belt supports and rollers were dislodged.
The Itmann mine rescue team arrived on the section about 7:45 p.m., and the rescue team immediately began to explore the No. 1 entry at 200-foot intervals before temporary ventilation was reestablished in the explored areas.
About 8 p.m., Larry E. Bailey, section crew member, was located alive but unconscious and in serious condition in the No. 2 entry. Bailey was transported by stretcher and track-mounted equipment to the surface, where he arrived about 8:42 p.m. Bailey was examined by a physician and thereafter transported by ambulance to the Wyoming General Hospital, Incorporated, at Mullens, West Virginia. By 8:30 p.m., the remainder of the section crew was found near the mantrip car, and these men included two who were seriously injured and five who were dead. The two injured men, Jerry Billings and Dallas Mullens, were transported to the surface, arriving about 9:24 p.m. Billings and Mullens were examined promptly by a physician and then transported to the hospital. The five fatally injured victims were transported to the surface later, arriving about 11:30 p.m.
Summary of Evidence
This was primarily a methane explosion, and coal dust entered into propagation only to a minor degree.
The injured members of the Cabin Creek 4 panel section crew stated that on the day the explosion
occurred, the working places were well ventilated, that methane had not been detected at the
working faces, and that the methane monitor had not deenergized the continuous miner.
About a month prior to the explosion, the operator's request to change the mine ventilation plan
by ventilating the section working faces with air coursed over the belt conveyor in Cabin Creek 4
panel was approved by the Bureau of Mines, to provide adequate ventilation of the entry and to
dilute methane liberated from the shelter holes and at the belt feeder.
Cause of Explosion
This explosion resulted from the ignition of a methane-air mixture in the No. 1 entry about 1,000 feet outby the working faces of Cabin Creek 4 panel section. The methane was ignited by an electric arc from a portal bus being used to transport the section crew to the surface. The electric arc occurred when the trolley-pole harp lost electrical contact with trolley wire. The source of the methane could not be determined positively and probable reasons for its accumulation at the specific time and location are conjectural. The investigators are of the opinion that in addition to the usual methane liberation in No. 1 entry, excessive pressure from the adjacent strata released additional methane into the No. 1 entry shortly before the explosion occurred.
Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume II
Explosion at Itmann Kills 5 Miners
Post Herald and Register, Beckley, West Virginia
December 17, 1972
Mullens (RNS) -- A spokesman at Wyoming General Hospital, quoting Dr. George Fordham of Mullens, who had been at the scene, said the five men listed earlier as unaccounted for in the Saturday explosion at Itmann No. 3 mine were "all dead."
The bodies of the five men were brought to Wyoming General Hospital about 11:45 p.m.
They were identified as:
Bill Hatfield, 44, of New Richmond
Nathan Lacy Akers, 27, Princewick
Larry Akers, 22, of Covel
Itmann (RNS) -- Three of eight miners trapped underground in an explosion at Itmann Coal Company Mine No. 3 were listed in "critical" condition at Wyoming General Hospital in nearby Mullens late Saturday night.
Although there were unofficial reports that all eight of the men trapped when the explosion ripped through the mine at 3:40 p.m. had been found, the fate of the other five was indefinite and there were mounting fears the lack of a report on them was ominous.
The three brought out by rescue crews about six hours after the explosion were identified as Larry Bailey, 23, of Brenton; Dallas Mullins, 32, of Pineville; and Jerry Billings, age and address not available. Bailey had received emergency treatment and had been admitted to the hospital. Mullins and Billings were still undergoing emergency treatment at 10:30 p.m.
One of the five missing men was identified as Bill Hatfield of New Richmond, president of the local union (No. 9690) at Itmann.
Two rescue teams were reported in the area where the three men were found alive, a spokesman for Consolidation Coal Co., parent firm of Itmann Coal, said. At least two other rescue teams, physicians and ambulances were standing by.
"Maybe these men were on the way out. Nobody knows at this point," the spokesman said.
The spokesman said the men were located about 6,000 to 7,000 feet from the outside of the drift mine. There is both a drift opening and a shaft opening (through Itmann Mine No. 4) access to the mine and it was unclear which of these the distances referred to. The explosion was said to have occurred about 2,500 feet from the pit opening.
Itmann No. 3 is classified as a "gassy" mine but officials said the origin of the explosion had not been determined definitely. The Consolidation spokesman said miners who escaped the blast reported that there was no fire. The three injured men, however, all suffered extensive burns from the explosion.
The explosion was an extensive one. Rescue teams reportedly were hampered in their efforts to reach the other five men because they had to rebuild airways as they advanced. The explosion had ripped out 25 "stoppers" (cinder block brattices that direct the life-giving air pumped by huge fans into the working areas).
The Saturday explosion was said to have occurred in the "Cabin Creek Four Panel" section of the mine where a continuous miner device was being used. An explosion had occurred in a nearby section where a "German Plow" machine was being used in December, 1971.
The explosion occurred while the day shift was still in the mines. The workers were thought to have been on their way out when it occurred. About 70 miners, on the pit opening side of the explosion, escaped, according to William Starling, vice president of Pocahontas Coal Co., a Consolidation subsidiary, who was at the scene.