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Fourteen miners were trapped for six hours, but were rescued unharmed. They had protected themselves from poisonous fumes by stretching canvas over openings in the shaft. Woodrow Evans, 44, of Amonate, foreman of the 14-man group rescued at about 1 a.m., said his men remained calm during their wait and "some of them even ate their lunch." The 14 joined their families at the surface and went home to rest.
Bodies of 11 Recovered from Virginia Coal Mine
Simpson's Leader Times, Kittanning, Pennsylvania
December 28, 1957
Amonate, Va. (UP) -- Rescue workers today found and brought to the surface the bodies of 11 coal miners killed by flash burns and concussion from a gas explosion in Amonate Mine No. 31 of the Pocahontas Fuel Company.
The blast occurred about 6:30 p.m. (EST) Friday, 500 feet underground and about two miles from the main entrance of the mine.
About 175 miners, far from the explosion scene, fled to safety in a mine elevator. Fourteen others were trapped for six hours, but were rescued unharmed. They had protected themselves from poisonous fumes by stretching canvas over openings in the shaft.
An all-night rescue operation ended with discovery and removal of the bodies of the 11 victims shortly after dawn.
The bodies were brought to the surface more than 13 hours after the explosion occurred. About 75 persons, some of them members of the families of the victims, stood solemnly in the gray morning light at a drift mouth near War, W. Va., as the bodies were brought up on shuttle cars, wrapped in canvas.
Over the drift mouth was a sign: "Have you worked carefully today?"
The bodies were unloaded onto makeshift tables in a machine shop near the entrance, placed on rough-hewn boards resting on oil drums and covered with canvas. Final identification was made in the machine shop.
The victims were identified as:
Archie Alicie, 32, Cedar Bluff, Va.
James Chiles, 51, Valls Creek, Va.
Howard Fields, age unknown, Bandy, Va.
Main B. Harrison, 43, Bandy, Va.
William R. Amos, 50, Warrior Mine, W. Va.
Gilmer E. Monk, 26, North Tazewell, Va.
John E. Nunley, 30, Bluefield, Va.
Harman B. Perry, 50, North Tazewell, Va.
James R. Rutherford, Warrior Mine, W. Va.
Lloyd E. Vest, 36, Freeman, W. Va.
Arnold W. Young, 30, Newhall, W. Va.
A four-way investigation of the disaster started immediately, by the Federal Bureau of Mines, the West Virginia Department of Mines, the United Mine Workers and the Pocahontas Fuel Company.
Seven of the victims were under notice of a layoff effective Monday. Notice had been given 500 miners in the area that they would be laid off Monday because of falling coal prices.
The 11 victims left 38 children. Amos was the father of seven, Harrison and Young of five each.
Discovery of the bodies this morning ended a search operation that began at 6:30 p.m. Friday when the blast occurred more than two miles from the main employees entrance of the sprawling mine. Families of the dead men waited at another entrance for the bodies to reach the surface.
Fourteen other men were trapped for six hours in another section of the mine but were found and reached the surface unhurt. They had protected themselves from poisonous fumes by stretching canvas over openings in the shaft.
Rescue crews sent word to the surface that all of the victims had been killed by flash burns and concussion rather than by suffocation or by being crushed.
The mine, Amonate No. 31, is only a few miles from the Bishop, Va., mine where 37 miners were killed in an underground explosion last Feb. 4. Both shafts are owned by the same company, the Pocahontas Fuel Co., of Bluefield, W. Va.
W. A. Fullerton, special assistant to the president of Pocahontas Fuel Company, said about 175 other miners were working when the gas exploded, but were far from the scene and went to the surface by elevator. None of them was hurt.
The firm executive said he would not identify the dead men until the bodies were brought out.
Woodrow Evans, 44, of Amonate, foreman of the 14-man group rescued at about 1 a.m. today, said his men remained calm during their wait and "some of them even ate their lunch." The 14 joined their families at the surface and went home to rest.
The blast was so deep in the mine that officials did not feel the shock on the surface and did not know there was trouble until the gauges showed ventilation failure. While rescue parties worked, company employees tried to restore ventilation behind the blast area in the event the 11 men there were still alive.
One company official said there was surprisingly little damage in the mine, a fact that allowed searchers to reach the bodies well ahead of their estimated schedule. Ten bodies were found at about 6 a.m. and were moved toward the surface. The 11th victim was found later.
Ambulances and rescue equipment came to the scene from throughout this remote mining country along the Virginia-West Virginia border.
Elbert Sparks, one of the men who escaped from the mine, said the explosion "kicked up a lot of dust and there was a loud report." He was about two and a half miles from the blast, he said, and he and companions walked to an elevator and rode to the surface.
Fullerton said between 200 and 215 men were working in the mine, one of several operated in this area by Pocahontas. The explosion apparently resulted from an accumulation of gas, he said.
The blast occurred two to two and a half miles from the employees entrance, Fullerton said, and at about the 500-foot level.
The 14 men rescued during the night were working on a seam face beyond the scene of the explosion.
No shock from the blast was felt on the outside, according to company spokesman Fred Wills. Meters on the ventilating system gave the first indication something was wrong.
Wills said some of the miners were among the 160 Pocahontas has given layoff notices because of a reduction in the demand for coal.
The mine is only 10 miles from the Bishop, Va., diggings where 37 miners were killed in an explosion last Feb. 4. That mine also is owned by the Pocahontas firm, which has headquarters in Bluefield, W. Va.
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