united states mine rescue association Mine Disasters in the United States
Inland Steel Company Sherwood Mine Asphyxiations
Iron River, Michigan
June 1, 1959
No. Killed - 6
Mineral Hills Mourns Five Killed in Blast
The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan
June 2, 1959
Iron River, Mich., June 2 (AP) -- Sorrow burdened this Northern Michigan mining community today in the wake of yesterday's underground "belching hell" disaster that killed five men.
But thanks was also given than the tragedy was no worse.
Survivors' accounts of the peril deep within Inland Steel Company's Sherwood iron mine in nearby Mineral Hills indicated that but for warnings, including the tell-tale odor of gas, the death toll might have been far greater.
The mine was closed today pending further investigation, although all gas was reported cleared.
The five who died were trapped by sulfurous gas and flames that shot out from the collapse of a walled-up slope.
Seven others were injured while 25, crawling in pitch-black darkness up a 225-foot incline 1,200 feet below the surface, escaped without injury.
Howard Groop, 30, Crystal Falls, whose father, Everett, escaped, died in a hospital at nearby Stambaugh last night. Gas fumes had seared his lungs.
The other victims, all veterans of the iron ore mines, were:
Ingvar Wester, about 48, Iron Ridge
August Zuckal, 51, Caspian
Elnar Johnson, 59, Crystal Falls
Carl Anderson, 40, Iron River
All were residents of the cluster of mining towns in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where no disaster of this magnitude had been known in years.
Yesterday's blast came on the seventh anniversary of a 1952 tragedy in which three men were killed. That blast was in another mine in the same tiny town.
Keith Sleeman, who escaped the full force of yesterday's blast by dodging into a passageway, described it as "belching hell." He cut a niche in a wall in which he hid his face from hot gas.
Others gave similar stories from their hospital beds.
"All hell came by," said Winfred Peterson, 38, father of three children. The blast shot streams of debris and water through mine corridors.
A moment before, hearing a "roaring," Peterson had put his gloved hands before his eyes. He suffered facial and hand burns.
A shift boss, Jack Johnson, was credited with having warned his men that a cave-in of the slope threatened.
Attilo Tessaro, 52, Crystal Falls, ran toward the main shaft; fleeing the heat of the spreading gas.
"I felt it was getting hotter and hotter," Tessaro said. "Then I lay down with my jacket covering my face." The heat and the gas cloud enveloped him. "If it had lasted a couple more minutes, I wouldn't have lasted," Tessaro said.
The mine management said the blast was caused by the collapse of a supporting pillar in the slope. The slope had been mined out several years and then walled off when inflammable sulfurous slate was found.