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18 Killed in Mine Blast at Logan
Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
March 13, 1937
Logan, March 12. -- (AP) -- The black depths of blasted MacBeth mine held nine dead men tonight while the bodies of nine others killed in the state's worst mine disaster in a decade rested in a funeral home.
Stumbling rescue crews, so worn out they could only speak with difficulty of the terrors of the blast, had brought out the seven and had definitely located the bodies of nine others.
Two of the 18 trapped when the blast let go last night were believed behind an almost impenetrable mass of slate, coal and timber.
"It may be days before we get to them," said a weary member of one crew.
No one held any hope that the two men were alive.
W. H. Myers, division superintendent of the Hutchinson Coal Company, came out of the mine after 23 hours and said:
"The mine is not as bad as we thought. We are being hampered in rescue work by slate falls."N. P. Rhinehart, chief of the state mines department, said, however, he probably would recommend closing of the operation for a day or so as a safety measure. Rhinehart said most of the bodies would be out by tomorrow although two might not be reached for a day or two.
While the tired crews carried on underground, relatives of those whose bodies were recovered started the sad duty of funeral arrangements.
Eight services have been set for Sunday. The body of Joe Fry, the first to be recovered was returned to his little home tonight.
At the hamlet of unpainted houses grouped around a black and grim tipple eight miles east over hillside roads sorrow gripped the mining folk for the second time in six months.
Last September they stood, as they did today, waiting for crews to bring out the dead. In that blast 10 men died. The toll this time seemed certain to be 18.
The bodies taken to a Logan funeral home to wait until mourning relatives could arrange for funeral services were those of Joe Fry, 28, motorman; Troy McCoy, 25, brakeman; Floyd Field, 30, section boss; Mike Gimo, 44, loader; Leonard Forbes, 30, loader; R. B. Kimball, 34, trackman; Tuphon Podlaska, 42, loader; Fred McCcroskey, 32, Negro, loader; and Gazel Vankovitch, 48, loader.
Prentice Farley, mine inspector, said these bodies had been located: August Tusek, 41, loader; Jack Tusek, 41, his twin brother, loader; Hubert Fleming, 37, motorman; GEORGE McCormick, 27, brakeman; Sam French, Negro, loader; Roland Karns, 30, loader; Tom Brodocko, 48, loader.
Farley said Earl Gearhart, 28, machine man; and James Wiley, 32, machine man, were behind the great slate fall and most certainly were dead.
State mine department officials attributed the cause of the blast to accidental ignition of a gas pocket.
At Washington, U. S. Bureau of Mines officials were informed by G. W. Grove of Pittsburgh that he believed the explosion of electrical origin. Grove, heading the inquiry into the blast, said the mine employs three major safety principles but it uses trolley power locomotives which give off sparks and certain mining machinery which lack approval.
Daniel Harrington of the Bureau said at Washington that a toll of 18 at MacBeth would make it the worst disaster since a blast killed 54 miners, Dec. 23, 1932, at Mowequa, Illinois.
While there was still some hope that the trapped men might yet live, the crowd around the pit mouth was quiet. But the arrival of body after body brought moans of despair from friends and cries of anguish from members of families.
Sudden, piercing screams came from a mother with a baby in her arms and three other children clinging to her dress.
They came from the widow of R. B. Kimball, 34-year-old father of six children. Mrs. Kimball had refused to believe her husband died, although he was among the first to be reported missing.
Early in the afternoon his mangled body passed her on a stretcher and she collapsed.
Men and women nearby stopped their cars to keep out the sound of the anguished screams while relatives took Mrs. Kimball in their arms. "He was so good to me, he was so good to me," she sobbed as she was led away.
Last September she lost her brother, Tom Tiller, in that catastrophe.
Fred Tiller, brother of the dead Tom, who had worked 16 continuous hours at rescue work said he was positive none of the missing survived.
"It was much heavier than the Sept. 2 explosion," he said.
The Hutchinson Coal company, operator of MacBeth mine, sent telegrams to relatives of all the victims, scattered in 20 states. It arranged to care for the immediate needs of their families and the United Mine Workers telegraphed funds.
Truman E. Johnson, vice president of the company, left Fairmont for Logan immediately upon returning from Washington where he had joined a committee urging passage of the Guffey-Vinson coal control bill.
Johnson said the latest safety devices has been installed in MacBeth after the September disaster and daily tests had not disclosed the prevalence of any great amount of explosive gas mixtures.
Farley, in charge of rescue operations for the department of mines, described the scene almost two miles underground.
"Around the center of the blast the mine was badly torn. We are finding the bodies scattered in many places most of the victims apparently were killed outright by the explosion."MacBeth is a slope mine. The runway slopes down from the mouth at a 36-degree angle for 640 feet and then goes on a level for more than two miles, honeycombing an area of many acres.
The center of the blast was about a mile and a half from the foot of the slope.
The explosion ripped timbers from the sides of the airways and threw them in tangled masses all over the twisted tracks. Slate was two and three feet deep everywhere and in some places more.
It was impossible to get mine motors within three quarters of a mile. Exhausted crews crawled over the slate with bodies, taking two hours to get to the nearest motor.
Ambulances stood close to the pit mouth and as the bodies came out two by two received them and hurried to the Logan funeral home. A short time later they were back -- waiting.
After reaching the mine Vice President Johnson of the company issued a statement saying:
"We have taken every precaution possible. I was dumfounded at the news of the explosion. The general explanation is and we agree on it that a spark ignited a feeder pocket of gas."Johnson said he and J. H. Nuzum, general superintendent of northern operations, will make an inspection tomorrow.
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