June 1

This Day in History

Disaster

Jun 1, 1965:

Coal mine explosion kills 236 in Japan

A coal mine explosion kills 236 workers at the Yamano mine near Fukuoka, Japan, on this day in 1965. The tragic disaster might have been avoided if the operators of the mine had taken even the most basic safety precautions.

Only six years before, seven miners lost their lives and another 24 were seriously injured at the same mine. In that case, lapses in safety measures were cited as contributing to the deaths. Still, on June 1, 1965, 559 workers entered a mine that had no methanometers—used for maintaining safe levels of methane—nor any colorimetric detectors, which measure trace amounts of chemicals in the air, both of which are essential to coal-mine safety.

The sudden explosion, probably brought about by the ignition of a gas pocket, led to the collapse of many of the mine shafts and caused boulders to block the escape routes. Fortunately, some of the elevators were unaffected and 279 miners—37 of whom had sustained substantial injuries—were able to take them safely to the surface. The remaining 236 workers were left underground. For the next two days, thousands of relatives and friends waited outside the mine as the rescue effort got underway. But the wait was futile; no survivors were found.

Yoshio Sakarauchi, the trade and industries minister of Japan, resigned in the aftermath of the disaster.

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