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Mine Disasters in
the United States


Republic Steel Corporation
Sayreton No. 2 Mine Explosions

Sayreton, Jefferson County, Alabama
August 28, 1943
No. Killed - 28



Rescuer Deaths

About 12:40 a.m., August 29th, or 2 hours after the first explosion, a second explosion occurred in the same area, at which time there were 18 members of a rescue party in the affected section.  Two men of the rescue party were killed and 16 were injured.  Eight of the sixteen injured died after being removed to the hospital.  Total number of deaths from the second explosion was 10.


Story of the Explosions and Recovery Operations

The portion of the story concerning the explosions and the recovery work performed in the interval between the explosions is taken from the testimony of persons who escaped after the explosions, and those who assisted with recovery work immediately after the first blast.

The first evidence of the blast known to anyone in the immediate vicinity, but not in the direct path of the explosion forces, was noted by E. C. Tate, haulage foreman, whose station is near the entrance to 9 left (the entry leading to the affected area and about 1,500 feet from the scene of the disaster).  Mr. Tate related the following account of events:
"A steel door, which separates my station from the manway slope, was opened forcibly by a rush of air, but this had happened on numerous occasions when the roof subsided in the pillar areas of 9 left slope section and the event had no significance to me.  I remained at my station and a few minutes later Calvin Bates, main-line motorman, and James Pryor, coupler, appeared from the 9 left section, calling for assistance.

A few minutes after the arrival of these men, J. C. Moore, 9 left section motorman, appeared.  The three men were burned and Bates told me that an explosion had occurred in 10 left off 9 left slope.  I assisted the men into a slope train and then telephoned to the surface to announce the occurrence and have the mine power lines deenergized.  While I was using the telephone, Mr. Vineyard, night mine foreman, arrived at my station.  I directed a main-line motorman, who arrived from another section of the mine, to inform all persons in the unaffected parts of the mine to report to the lower chain yard near my station for transportation to the surface.  I then accompanied Mr. Vineyard into 9 left and we met 3 men at the airlock doors, which are about 150 feet inby the junction of 9 left and the main slope.

After ascertaining that these men were not injured (these three were retimbering 9 left entry and were not within the limits of the forces of the explosion), we proceeded to 9 left slope where a ventilation door had been torn from its anchors and moved against a retaining wall. The atmosphere was filled with dust to the extent that visibility was poor.

At this point we decided that it would be well to open the air-lock doors, thus short-circuiting the major portion of the ventilating current from its normal course to the 9 left entry to remove the dust and add pure air direct to the affected section, or as near as possible.  I opened the doors and returned to 9 left slope to join Mr. Vineyard.  We then decided that probably the complete short-circuit of the air might affect the other sections of the mine and I was to partly close the doors.  I had gone a short distance when Mr. Vineyard recalled me and stated that he heard someone calling from the direction of the affected area.  We proceeded inby along 9 left slope about 100 feet and found Charlie Smith groping his way to 9 left.  We assisted Smith to 9 left, where he collapsed, and Mr. Vineyard asked me to bring stretchers from the chain yard.  I obtained the stretchers and partly closed the air-lock doors on my return trip to 9 left slope.  Some other men accompanied me on this trip and we carried Smith to the lower chain yard.  I remained at the telephone during the succeeding maneuvers."
The recovery operations from this point are taken from the story of Curtis Vineyard, night mine foreman:
"After the stretcher bearers departed with Smith, I heard repeated calls from the vicinity of 10 left and proceeded in that direction.  I had only gone a short distance when I met two men and assisted them to the junction of 9 left and 9 left slope, where some employees from unaffected sections had congregated.  These men assisted the injured to the chain yard and I returned to 10 left, where I found Ernest Smith, a coupler, who told me that the explosion occurred immediately after a rock fall in the pillar area I then found two other men and assisted them to the 9 left slope junction.

About, this time Mr. Ferguson, assistant mine superintendent, arrived and we traversed the entire section.  During our travels we counted 14 dead men and found another who was unconscious, but still alive.  This man was removed to the fresh air at 9 left slope junction and then to the main slope.  We inspected the section for gas and fires; but discovered neither, at least no active fires and if smouldering ones were present we overlooked them in the smoky, dusty atmosphere.  While contemplating our next move, we were joined by William Goodwin, chief Mine inspector for the company, and Mike Loebler, Jr., day mine foreman.  Messrs. Goodwin, Loebler, Ferguson, and myself made another trip through the explosion area and then one victim was removed.

Mr. Ferguson suggested reestablishing normal ventilation so far as possible by closing the air-lock doors at the entrance to 9 left and a discussion ensued.  Several ideas were advanced as to the effect of this move and finally the doors were closed.  A temporary brattice cloth stopping was erected to replace the door at the entrance to 9 left slope and force the air into 10 left to facilitate removal of the bodies, because the air in the section was filled with dust and smoke since normal air circulation was interrupted."
From this point, the account related by F. E. Cochran seems the most plausible and reads as follows:
"When I arrived in 10 left, Messrs. Goodwin, Ferguson, Leobler, and Vineyard were in the slant driven from 10 left entry to the companion airway discussing the situation, and upon making a gas test I found methane and informed these men of my discovery.  They asked me to make another test, which I did with the same results.

Other short exploration trips were made and then the discussion concerning the restoring of normal ventilation ensued.  Mr. Ferguson suggested closing the air-lock doors at the entrance to 9 left and erecting a brattice cloth stopping at 9 left slope junction.  Mike Loebler started to close the doors and then Mr. Goodwin decided against this move and I was sent to overtake Loebler, which I did.  Mr. Loebler instructed me to stay at the doors and await further orders.

In about 15 minutes Mr. Loebler called to me saying, "Close the doors."  The doors were closed immediately.  About 5 minutes later E. J. Mc Crossin, Chief, State of Alabama, Department of Industrial Relations; C. E. Saxon, Bureau of Mines; M. S. Bailey, chief mine inspector, Woodward Iron Company; John Frame, assistant superintendent, Sayreton No. 1 mine; Milton Ferguson, deputy sheriff, Jefferson County; Messrs. Neal and Nail, section foremen; Joe Melton, safety inspector, Sayreton Nos. 1 and 2 mines; and others arrived at the air-lock doors.  These men proceeded toward 9 left slope to where Messrs. Goodwin, Loebler, and Ferguson were.

In a few minutes Mr. Neal returned to the air-lock doors for a carbon-monoxide detector, which he procured immediately and returned to the affected section.  Approximately 15 minutes after Mr. Neal left, the second blast occurred.  There were several of us between these doors, and the force of the blast moved us, but fortunately no one was injured.  I didn't see any flame, but the air was filled with dust and the temperature increased rapidly.  My first thought was to run, which I did, but I regained control of myself quickly and returned to the air-lock doors, which were now open."
Joe Melton states as follows:
"I propped the doors open as soon as I recovered from the temporary shock of the blast.  I had been looking through an opening in the inby air-lock door when the explosion occurred, and was moved several feet by the blast, losing my equilibrium during this sudden forced motion, but fortunately I was only affected momentarily, and my first thought was to open the doors to permit fresh air to reach those in the affected area."
In order to relate proceedings of the recovery crew after they left the air-lock doors, it is necessary to again quote Mr. Vineyard:
"When the group comprised of Messrs. McCrossin, Saxon, Bailey, Milton Ferguson, Neal, Nail, and others arrived at the junction of 9 left slope and 9 left, a short conference was held concerning the foregoing maneuvers, and the group then decided to explore the explosion area before preparations were made to remove the victims.

Seventeen persons were present and many of this number had flame safety lamps.  M. S. Bailey suggested leaving some of the flame safety lamps at this point, and seven of the men were asked to remain.  Nine men, Messrs. McCrossin, Goodwin, Bailey, Saxon, George Ferguson, William Ferguson, Nail, Neal, and myself, passed through the brattice-cloth stopping and proceeded toward 10 left.  Methane was encountered near the entrance to 10 left (about 2 percent), and George Ferguson stated that the gas was probably being liberated from the caved area adjacent to 9 left slope, since stoppings between this entry and the caved area were demolished by the first explosion.

Our group then proceeded to 10 left and into No. 1 room off 10 left air course.  The entire group was within a radius of 30 feet, discussing matters pertaining to the previous blast, when the second explosion occurred.  I was knocked down and I saw plenty of flame, which seemed to come from the caved area adjoining this room.  I didn't lose my lamp and was conscious all the time.  The air was filled with dust and smoke, and I crawled to 9 left slope.  Mr. Neal accompanied me and he was severely burned and bewailing the fact, but we continued to 9 left where we met John Wayne.

Mr. Wayne was calling for help and he accompanied Mr. Neal and I to the chain yard, where we boarded a train and were hauled to the surface."  The men stationed at the entrance to 9 left slope were burned but made their way unassisted to the lower chain yard on the main slope."
Joe Melton relates the following incidents, which occurred immediately after the second blast:
"Several men came from 9 left a few minutes after the blast, and I helped remove the burning clothing from some of them.  I assisted these injured and burned men to the slope train, and then procured a pair of stretchers and started into 9 left.  I met Messrs. McCrossin and Loebler at the air-lock doors, and they said that they could make their way to the slope train and for me to try to reach Mr. Saxon, who was still in 10 left.  Andy King, a coal driller, accompanied me, and when I asked if he could use an All-Service gas mask he replied that he couldn't.

We proceeded into 9 left and then into 9 left slope, but could only go a short distance because of the foul atmosphere.  We retreated to 9 left sidetrack, where we met Mr. Watt, superintendent Sayreton Nos. 1 and 2 mines.  I told Mr. Watt of my attempt to reach Mr. Saxon, and he decided that we should try again.  When we reached 9 left slope, Mr. Watt donned his All-Service gas mask, and instructed me to wait a few minutes while he explored inby along the slope.  In a few minutes he called to me and I followed him.  When I reached Mr. Watt, he had removed his gas mask, but I did not remove mine.  We found Mr. Saxon, who informed as that all of the men inby him were dead.  We loaded Mr. Saxon on a stretcher, and retreated toward 9 left.  Just inby the air-lock doors we were relieved by two men, who saw us from the lower chain yard."
Mr. D. J. Parker, supervising engineer, district D, was informed of the explosion by E. J. McCrossin, chief, State of Alabama, Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Safety and Inspection, at 11:15 p.m., August 28, 1943.  Mr. Parker immediately called Mr. Saxon, and instructed him to proceed to the mine at once, which he did, arriving there about 11:50 p.m.  According to a statement by a company representative, Messrs.  Saxon, McCrossin, and others boarded the slope train about 11:55, and were lowered into the mine.

Mr. Parker contacted Messrs. Bradford and Stahl soon after he had relayed the message to Mr. Saxon, and instructed them to proceed to the mine.

Messrs. Bradford and Stahl arrived at the mine about 12:15 a.m., or about 25 minutes before the second explosion occurred.  Upon arrival, Bradford and Stahl announced their presence to Mr. B. W. Norton, general superintendent, Republic Steel Corporation, and H. J. Gentry, chief State mine inspector, who seemed to be jointly in charge of surface operations, and were told to await information from underground.

A few minutes later a telephone message announced the second explosion, together with the fact that most of the recovery crew was trapped, and immediate assistance was needed.  The slope train was underground, but in only a minute or so it emerged from the mine, and mine rescue and first-aid supplies were loaded at once.  R. B. Watt, superintendent, Sayreton Nos. 1 and 2 mines; Dr. Rountree, company physician; W. J. Bailey, superintendent, Sayre mine, Republic Steel Corporation; Bradford and Stahl, Bureau of Mines, and others boarded the train, and were lowered into the mine.

Upon arrival at the lower chain yard, Messrs. Watt and Bailey left the train, and proceeded to 9 left without informing anyone of their intentions.  Bradford and Stahl were in a quandary, not being familiar with the mine, and they went to the haulage-foreman's station to learn the whereabouts of the blast, and what had been accomplished.  Those present were upset by the events, and definite information was difficult to obtain.

While information was being sought, M. S. Bailey appeared at the station.  Mr. Bailey was severely burned and the doctor enlisted the aid of Bradford and Stahl to prepare Bailey for transportation to the surface.  Only seconds later, Messrs. McCrossin and Loebler arrived at the station.  Mr. McCrossin was placed on a stretcher, and made as comfortable as possible, but Mr. Loebler insisted that he wished to sit erect in the slope train.  These men were loaded in the train and sent to the surface.

During these latter operations, Mr. Bradford walked down the slope a short distance and was hailed by Messrs. Watt and Melton, who were bearing Mr. Saxon from the explosion area.  Mr. Bradford and Mr. Doughty, safety inspector, Virginia mine, who had followed him, relieved Messrs. Watt and Melton and carried Mr. Saxon to the haulage-foreman's station.

Only a glance showed that Mr. Saxon was critically burned, and he was loaded in the slope train immediately.  During this procedure H. J. Gentry, chief State mine inspector; R. B. Perry, mining engineer, Republic Steel Corporation; A. G. Crane, Dabney Ramseur, and J. H. Chapman, State mine inspectors, and others arrived at the haulage foreman's station.

A short conference was held and preliminary recovery plans formulated.  Since two blasts had already occurred in the area, extreme caution seemed mandatory, if others were to be averted.  It was decided after a study of the mine map and ventilation scheme that further manipulation of the ventilating apparatus would be dangerous, and that the safest apparent procedure was to leave the 9 left air-lock doors open, thus short-circuiting the major portion of the ventilating current from the affected area.

Mr. Gentry, in charge for the State after Mr. McCrossin's disability, asked Stahl to direct operations and Bradford to assume charge of the mine rescue equipment and crews.

A volunteer exploration party was formed, equipped with All-Service gas masks, flame safety lamps, and carbon-monoxide detectors, and assigned definite areas to explore.  R. B. Perry assumed charge of the party, since he was familiar with every part of the explosion area.  During this exploratory tour, several small fires were found and extinguished with rock dust and water.

After the preliminary trip had been completed, it was decided that all places adjacent to the affected area should be examined before exposing a large number of men to the dangers of another explosion. When all concerned were reasonably sure that no fire, remained in the area, stretcher crews were organized, and the fifteen bodies removed from the blast area.

The last victim was sent to the surface about 6:00 a.m. Sunday, August 29, 1943.  During the removal operations, the position of each body and any identifying evidence was carefully marked for reference.

The mine rescue equipment was loaded in a slope train, and when all the recovery personnel had been accounted for, the remaining members of the recovery crews boarded the train, which arrived on the surface about 7:30 a.m., August 29, 1943.

It was, suggested that the affected area be patrolled until the absence of fire be assured beyond question, but no further action was taken until about 2:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon, when a group, including company officials and officials from neighboring mines, went underground to inspect the explosion area prior to reestablishing ventilation.

Explosive concentrations of methane were encountered while the bodies of the blast victims were being removed.  During this later inspection, one small fire was found and extinguished.  This latter fire might well have ignited gas, which was present in large quantities and might have caused a third explosion.

Men Killed in the 1st Explosion
Woodie E. Faucett
James M. McCombs
Simon C. Oldacre
J. V. Sharit
W. M. Pennington
Tom McAlpine
H. E. Hann
G. J. W. Sellers
H. E. Gilley
W. H. Abel
Joe Davenport, Jr.
J. L. Davis
Amos McGruder
J. W. Guthrie
Willie Jiles
Bud Jones
Thomas Peebles
F. J. Loggins
Men Killed in the 2nd Explosion
William Goodwin
E. J. McCrossin,
Chief State Mine Inspector
M. S. Bailey
Milton F. Ferguson
George T. Ferguson
John Frame
Will Neal
J. M. Nail
R. B. Bennett
Clifford E. Saxon,
Bureau of Mines Safety Instructor
Men Injured in the 1st Explosion
A. R. Pesnell
James Pryor
Charlie Smith
J. C. Moore
Ernest Smith
Calvin Bates
C. W. Scott
W. E. Armstrong
Lonzey McNeily
Men Injured in the 2nd Explosion
Curtis Vineyard
Mike Loebler
James Frame
Robert Allen
P. R. Ragland
A. F. Fenley
J. W. Bishop
John Waine

Source:
U. S. Bureau of Mines Accident Investigation Report  PDF Format



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