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About 12:40 a.m., August 29th, or 2½ 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.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.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.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.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.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.
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