Last Desperate Attempt is Made to Save 64 Coal Miners Trapped in Shaft in Ohio
Kingsport Times, Tennessee
July 6, 1944
Bellaire, Ohio -- AP -- In a last desperate attempt to reach 64 men entombed deep in a flaming mine, engineers brought up drills today to bore directly into a shaft where the miners were caught.
Whether any of them still lived was unknown. Most officials of the Powhatan mine, which erupted in flame late yesterday when a fall shorted a trolley line, expressed fear all were dead. The mine was sealed this morning in an effort to halt the fire.
But John Owens, president of District 50, United Mine Workers of America, demanded that a hole be bored directly to the tunnel where the men huddled and an attempt made to contact them. The men are about 350 feet below the surface.
George Mitchell, chief engineer for Powhatan, said two high-speed drills were expected momentarily.
"We still have hope they may be alive," he said.
Adolf Pacifico, UMW vice president, said the men -- if alive -- could be given air, food and water through the hole, which would be about eight inches in diameter.
Fifteen hours after the fire started two miles from the shaft entrance, State Mine Inspector Richard McGee announced there was no chance of the men escaping alive. Every outside entrance to the mine was ordered sealed.
Before the fire got out of control rescue workers had cut a new tunnel 500 feet through coal and rock in a vain effort to by-pass the flames and reach the men.
The fire broke out at 1 p.m. yesterday when a rock fall broke a high-voltage trolley and sizzling sparks ignited coal near the junction of the main passageway and a 3,600-foot dead-end corridor in which the victims were working.
The mine, the largest soft coal pit in Ohio, is operated by the Powhatan Mining Company, 15 miles south of here. No word has been received from the men since the fire broke out.
Up until 4 a.m. today, when sealing of the mine was decided upon, Marcus Kerr, chief of the State Division of Mines, had expressed belief the men could be reached.
Charles E. Young, assistant superintendent of the mine, had asserted that if the men could have barricaded themselves properly they could have held out five or six days.
Scores of relatives of the entombed men were waiting hopefully at the mine entrance when officials announced that the shaft must be sealed.
Closing the shaft will cut off the oxygen supply and the fire will burn itself out. It must remain sealed for several weeks before workers can return to remove the bodies of the victims.
In the mine when the fire started were 199 men. All but the 64, however, were in areas from which they could reach exits safely. The mine currently employed 850 men.
Immediately upon receiving the news, George Emery, a 45-year-old foreman and father of four children, went into the pit to help the trapped men. Hours later he had not returned.
The flames spread to two other areas, but these were brought under control.
The burning section is near an area where two men perished in a fire two years ago. The area had been sealed until a few months ago.