A spark from a locomotive ignited a body of methane in the first explosion, a fire ignited the
2nd. Two were killed in the first explosion and 7 were killed in the second explosion. The others died in an
effort to rescue their fellow man, when a second explosion of gas took place.
From the Google News Archives: (news links open in a separate window)
Finds Negligence in Mine Disaster
Altoona Mirror, Pennsylvania
March 29, 1937
Dubois, Pa., March 29. -- The Kramer, Pa., mine disaster which killed nine coal miners was the result of "gross negligence," Attorney General Charles J. Margiotti charged today.
Three blasts in the workings of the Northwest Mining and Exchange Company rocked the mine Saturday killing every man in it.
The men were sent into the mine, Margiotti said, in direct violation of a state mining law. He announced that an investigation has been started "for the purpose of fixing definite responsibility."
The last of the explosion victims were brought to the surface late last night after 200 rescue workers fought gas and fire through two and half miles of workings to reach the bodies.
Margiotti was at his home in Punxsutawney, twenty-two miles from DuBois when informed of the blast. He immediately began questioning officials of the mine and others.
Then he gave this statement:
"Utter disregard of basic mining law caused this terrible disaster. The blasts that sent nine men to their deaths were directly due to the fact that men were permitted to enter the mine twenty minutes after the ventilating fan had been started, after having been idle from 7:30 Saturday morning until 4:45 Saturday afternoon."
"Pennsylvania mining law specifically stipulates that when mine fans have not been in operation, no man shall be permitted to enter a mine until two hours after the fans have resumed operation."
Margiotti said he was convinced that had there been proper observance of the law, the disaster would not have occurred.
The attorney general, who was a neighbor and personal friend of most of the victims, stated that he learned the power for the mine had been off from 7:50 a.m. Saturday until 4:45 p.m., so that repairs to power equipment might be made.
L. M. Marshall, hoisting engineer, told Margiotti that he had lowered eight men into the mine twenty minutes after the fan was started.
According to the fan chart, the first explosion occurred at 5:15 and the second at 5:55, Margiotti said.
The first blast killed two men, Francis Dixon, aged 43, of DuBois, and Thomas Heberling, aged 46, of DuBois, both section foremen. They were working two and a half miles from the shaft opening.
The other six men, closer to the shaft, heard the explosion and sent word to the surface for help. With Superintendent Clyde Buthite and William McCracken, general inside foreman, they moved slowly through the workings until halted by roof falls.
Buthite returned to the surface for more help and shortly thereafter a second explosion occurred. This blast, Margiotti said he learned, was a slight one and apparently caused no fatalities.
Buthite obtained canvas to build brattice work and sought other men for rescue work. As he was about to return to the mine with Tom Lewis, a state mine inspector, he heard a third blast.
"The first explosion which killed two of the men and the second blast, evidently a slight one, came within a little over an hour after the fan had been started," Margiotti said. "The third blast that killed seven came at about 8:30 p.m.
"The mining law fixes two hours as the minimum safety allowances for breaking up gases after fan failure. Particularly in this mine, known to be a gaseous one, was such a precaution necessary."
Margiotti expressed confidence that the investigation will substantiate his charges, adding that a full report would be submitted to the Department of Mines and then to Governor George H. Earle.
"But whatever they (the causes) might be found to be could in no way minimize the initial responsibility, but may in fact aggravate it," he said.
He said that the direct causes may be determined when the scenes of the explosion are reached.
The victims were identified as:
William Laird, aged 43, of Big Run, assistant mine foreman
William McCracken, aged 42, Stump Creek, general inside mine foreman
Steve Yasenchack, aged 29, Stump Creek, section foreman
John McHenry, aged 49, DuBois, R. D. No. 2, section foreman
Francis Dixon, aged 43, DuBois, section foreman
Thomas Heberling, aged 46, DuBois, section foreman
George Hill, aged 30, DuBois, section foreman
Andrew O'Connor, aged 54, Punxsutawney, section foreman
William Lewis, aged 59, Punxsutawney, section foreman
The mine normally employs 1,200 men but only the foreman and section foremen were at work Saturday, because of the mine holiday, preparing the workings for the regular shift Monday morning.
First word that something was wrong came from Chief Electrician C. A. Lundburg, who notified Superintendent Clyde L. Buhite that something had knocked the power out on 11-North. Buhite, with Mine Superintendent McCracken and another, entered the shaft to investigate. On the bottom, Buhite said, he was joined with several other men at work when he entered. Soon the investigators discovered dust clouds, signs of an explosion. Buhite returned to the entry to obtain canvas to build "brattice" work and get other men and equipment to explore the affected area.
It was then, he said, that a second explosion was heard. It was not particularly violent, he said, and advanced into 11-North entry. He discovered fire had broken out. McCracken and the other foremen were trapped.
Rescue crews with gas masks were quickly summoned from surrounding mining towns. For hours they fought to smother the fire and clear the mine of after damp and other gases.
The first bodies were reached Easter morning. By noon five bodies had been recovered. Then the victims' families were notified of the disaster. Small crowds gathered at the mine entrance. State Police and highway patrolmen held the curious back.
Mine officials would make no formal statement.
Patrick Nairn, deputy secretary of the state bureau of mines, took charge of the state's investigation. He was joined by Attorney General Charles J. Margiotti, who was visiting his home in nearby Punxsutawney.
"My particular interest was to ascertain if there was any criminal negligence," Margiotti said. "We will not be able to complete our inquiry until the middle of the week as the fire and gas conditions prevents it at present. We believe we know what caused the explosion, but we are not making any statement now."