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Terre Haute Mine Explosion Kills 22
The Linton Daily Citizen, Indiana
March 3, 1961
West Terre Haute, Ind. -- (UPI) -- A night-long struggle by rescue crews to save the lives of 22 men trapped by a coal mine explosion ended in tragic failure today. The body of the last of the doomed 22 was brought to the surface at 7:35 a.m. CST.
The miners were killed about 10:30 o'clock Thursday night when a massive blast shattered a quarter-mile-long section of the Viking Coal Co. mine 180 feet below the floor of the Wabash Valley. The explosion unloosened tons of coal and earth, knocked out cement and wooden ventilators and twisted "coal moles" and loading machines into crumpled masses of metal.
Rescue crews brought the charred, mangled bodies out of the mine one by one through the long, chill night and carried them away in ambulances to a mortuary chapel where they were laid out in two rows on green and white sheets.
The 22nd body was brought to the surface 4½ hours after the first was recovered.
Coroner D. M. Ferguson said the men's lives were lost in a "violent type concussion explosion" that tore away limbs, obliterated faces and froze one victim's hand in front of his face as he apparently tried to ward off an accompanying flash of flames.
The explosion was centered in a section of the mine more than two miles from the entrance and struck down a crew working on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift.
Not a miner in the crew escaped.
The heat generated by the blast was so intense it melted plastic insulation on trolley wires a mile from the center of the affected area. Heat and gas drove back the first rescue crews to enter the dust-and-smoke-filled tunnels.
They donned gas masks and soon recovered two bodies. Early today, State Police Cpl. Rufus Finney reported flatly that "all 22 miners are dead" and the company vice president, Birch Brooks, said, "There is very little hope for the men. I'd be surprised if any of them made it." But rescue workers continued their fight against deadly carbon monoxide gas and the threat of new rock falls to find the missing.
Wives, children and friends -- some sobbing, others grim and tight-lipped -- clustered around the crude concrete and frame lean-to building that covered the steep-incline shaft as the bodies were brought up in cable cars.
They winced when a rasping buzzer signaled the arrival of each body and shrank away when Brooks, after definite or tentative identification was made, walked over to console the waiting relatives whose vigil was ended.
Then each body, wrapped in dull yellow burlap, was carried away to the funeral home.
Authorities said James Westfield, an investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, and Charles Ferguson, director of safety for the United Mine Workers, were en route here from Washington to begin investigations.
The disaster was the first at the 14-year-old Viking mine and the first in Indiana since 12 men were killed in the King's station mine at Princeton in July, 1948.
The scene was about 125 miles northeast of West Frankfort, Ill., where 119 miners died in a 1951 blast, and 110 miles northeast of Centralia, Ill., where 111 perished in 1947. The United States worst mine disaster killed 361 miners at Monongah, W. Va., in 1907.
Foreman Henry Robinson said 48 men had reported for work on Thursday's 4 p.m. to midnight second shift and 44 were underground when the blast shattered the mine.
The first indication of trouble came, he said, when he tried to telephone a 22-man crew working in one section and "couldn't get an answer, couldn't get in touch with anyone."
Robinson went down in a coal car to investigate and "hit dust and smoke."
"Then I knew something was wrong," he said. "I came back up, phoned the 22 men working three miles away in another section and told them to get the hell outta there."John Sangenetti, 41, who came up with the second crew, went down with a probing crew in search of his brother, Joe, and others.
"The dust and smoke were so bad you couldn't breathe," he said.One miner in the crowd at the minehead speculated the blast was caused by gas seeping upward from an old mine underneath the 14-year-old Viking entries.
A labyrinth of tunnels winds and intertwines for miles beneath the surface in Vigo County, near the Illinois border.
The soft coal mine feeds coal through a conveyor belt to the Wabash generating plant of the Public Service Company of Indiana, nearby.
Company officials said the tragedy was the first major one in the mine's history. One official said he believed the mine had had only one fatality in 14 years of operation.
Following is the list of dead in the Viking mine disaster:
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