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Mine Disasters in
the United States

Orient No. 2 Mine Explosion

West Frankfort, Illinois
December 21, 1951
No. Killed - 119

Successful Rescue

One miner, Cecil Sanders, was rescued after 60 hours from the Orient No. 2 coal mine in West Frankfort, Illinois following an explosion which killed 119.  At that time, this disaster was the nation's worst in the preceding 23 years.  Source document

From the Bureau of Mines report by M. J. Ankeny, J. Westfield, W. H. Tomlinson, F. J. Smith, W. R. Chick and C. L. South

The night shift entered the mine at the No. 4 shaft and the mantrips left the shaft bottom about 6:25 p.m. reaching the working sections about 20 to 30 feet minutes later.  About 7:40 p.m., the explosion caused the death of 118 the men in the mine; 4 were rescued (1 of whom died) and 133 escaped uninjured.

The night mine manager was on the surface at the No. 4 shaft when power went off in the mine and on the surface and smoke and dust came up the shaft.  When the power came on in about 5 minutes he went to the shaft bottom and changed doors to put the stairway compartment of the upcast shaft in intake air.  He warned all the sections on the south side of the mine by telephone to bring the men to the surface immediately but could not reach any of the north sections except the 11 and 12 north, 23 west north west.  He then called the company officials on the surface.

Rescue work was started, and three injured men were carried out the new main north entries.  One of these men died.  Ten men in 1 north 24 west north erected a single canvas barricade across the entrance to No. 1 entry but did not otherwise shut of the openings to the place in which they took refuge.  Nine were dead when found; but one was rescued alive at 5:40 a.m., December 24 and recovered.

A large force of rescue workers, crews and leaders came to the mine and the operations were fully organized.  Explorations were made by apparatus crews, and ventilation was restored by erecting temporary stoppings.  Some bodies were removed by apparatus crews, all being brought out by 2 p.m., December 26.  The ventilation in the explosion area was completely destroyed, in that almost all stoppings and doors were demolished, as was one main overcast.  Wires and air lines were blown down, and haulage equipment was damaged.  Flame traversed the explosion area except the outer parts of new main north and main north entries.

The mine was gassy and methane was known to be in abandoned panels and sections of panels termed "old ends."  These areas were open to air currents which were used to ventilate active workings, and haulage roads were also on return air.  Attention was called to this hazard in Federal mine inspection reports, the last having a date of July 31, 1951, which cited the following violation of the Federal Mine Safety Code.

Methane was detected in numerous abandoned entries (termed old ends) by means of a permissible flame safety lamp.  The ventilation was short-circuited at No. 1 room in these abandoned entries generally.  Trolley locomotives were being operated 150 to 300 feet outby the old ends.

All working sections affected by the explosion were ventilated by air that had passed by the entrances to abandoned workings.  Three of these old ends were caving just previous to the explosion, releasing gas.  A gas watchman was assign to watch one of these places on the day shift.  At the time of the explosion a trip of empty cars was standing in the main ventilating door in the 3 and 4 south at 27 east north west.  This took air pressure off the abandoned 3 and 4 south entries and let gas come out onto the active workings where it was ignited, probably by an area from electrical equipment near the junction of 3 south off 27 east north west and NO. 3 stub entry off 3 south.  Ignition may also have been from smoking.  The flame was propagated by coal dust and by gas from other worked out and abandoned areas.  Accumulations of coal dust principally along the roadways were not removed or rendered inert by the application of enough rockdust.  Watering methods were inadequate.

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