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Mine Disasters in
the United States


Etna Coal and Coke Company
NuRex Mine Explosion

LaFollette, Tennessee
May 5, 1943
No. Killed - 10



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Successful Rescue

Eighteen coal miners, huddling behind a hastily erected canvas barrier nearly 2,000 feet underground, survived an explosion that rocked the Etna Coal and Coke Company mine and suffocated ten of their companions.  The miners, fighting against the deadly fumes of "black damp" for more than eight hours, stumbled and crawled from their barricaded cell as rescue parties freed them.


10 Coal Diggers Die in State Mine Disaster
Kingsport Times, Tennessee
May 6, 1943

Lafollette, Tenn. -- (AP) -- Eighteen coal miners, huddling behind a hastily erected canvas barrier nearly 2,000 feet underground, survived an explosion that rocked the Etna Coal and Coke Company mine and suffocated ten of their companions.

The miners, fighting against the deadly fumes of "black damp" for more than eight hours, stumbled and crawled from their barricaded cell Wednesday night as rescue parties freed them.

Two other miners, who had joined the barricaded group, became panic-stricken and dashed from their enclosure to death from carbon-monoxide fumes 400 feet away.

The explosion thundered through the east Tennessee soft coal mine Wednesday afternoon, rocking it from tipple to the deepest seam.

The dead miners were identified as:
  • Cecil Faust
  • John Pelezzari
  • Dan Garrett
  • George Douglas
  • Lawrence Hale
  • Albert Kitts
  • Lewis White
  • Homer Martin
  • Oscar Ayers
  • Ernest Riggs
Two miners who were almost outside the mine tunnel when the blast occurred were burned critically.  Three others in another section of the mine escaped injury.

Earl Turner, one of the first entombed men to reach the outside, said he herded his companions into an enclosure and erected a cloth canvas barricade to keep out the fumes.

Jim Raines, 36, said the survivors "held out hopes until 7 o'clock."
"The air was getting bad," he said, "and the oxygen was just about gone.  There was so much dust we couldn't see.  Then the rescuers found us at 8:30.  Some of the boys were so weak they were crawling on their hands and knees."
Herman Gilbreath related how Albert Kitts and Oscar Ayers "decided to make a break for it" from the protected tunnel, only to collapse 400 feet away and die."

A coal mine official said the disaster, the worst in Tennessee since 1926, probably resulted from ignition of gaseous fumes.  However, mine bookkeeper R. B. Parrott said a test by inspector’s yesterday morning revealed no traces of gas.

The United Mine Workers' miners, who returned to their jobs late Monday following the John L. Lewis labor truce, reported for work at 8 a.m.  They were due out of the mine depth two hours after the blast occurred.  The mine tunnel sinks into a clay bank 50 yards from a main state highway which cuts through peaceful green and dog-wooded hills.

When the first body was removed by grimy-faced rescuers at 6:25 p.m., an official announced the miner was Earl Turner.  The miner's wife, waiting hopefully a few feet from the mine mouth, became hysterical and was led away.  Turner was one of the first 18 entombed men to reach the outside.  A miner's cap had led to the mistaken identity.  The joy that emerged from the Turner home Wednesday night, when the miner returned to his wife and three children was indescribable.

Gilbreath said he figured all the time that "we'd get out." The father of five children who escaped another mine explosion at Worley, Ky., in 1930 said the trapped diggers were comparatively calm.  He added that the air was so bad toward the last that they could hardly breathe.

Gilbreath said the men talked about anything to keep their thoughts away from their plight and "some of us said inaudible prayers that we might live."

The two men who broke away from the purified room were Kitts and Ayers.  Both were dead when found.  Another miner, Jud Weaver, left with them but returned to live.

Spectators and some miners talked openly about the American flag flying above the mine office.  "Will the government be responsible?" one men ventured.

Those saved after their entrapment were:
  • Sam Archer
  • Aaron Sears
  • James Seibert
  • Carl Riggs
  • Virgie Bean
  • Frank Wright
  • Van McCoy
  • Hubert Weaver
  • Alvin Riggs
  • Curt Ivey
  • Russell Rogers
  • Lee Weaver
  • S. S. Vitatoe
  • Tom Robbins
Hospitalized were Delmas Laxton and Hilda Benncot.  The three who were separated from the others were Dan McBee, Virgil Melson and David LaMarr.



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