November 20

This Day in History

Disaster

Nov 20, 1968:

Explosions rock West Virginia coal mine

Methane gas explosions in a West Virginia coal mine kill 78 men on this day in 1968. The damage to the mine was so extensive that it had to be sealed with the bodies of the men still inside.

The Consol No. 9 mine was located about 10 miles from the town of Monongay, between Farmington and Mannington in West Virginia. It was a large mine, approximately eight miles by six miles, with untapped oil and natural gas below the coal. At midnight on November 20, the workers descended 600 feet below the earth's surface to begin the night shift. At 5:40 a.m., a large explosion was quickly followed by three smaller ones. The blasts were so powerful that the lamphouse near the entrance to the mine was demolished.

Twenty-one men working in one section of the mine were able to escape in the early morning light even though dense smoke continued to billow from the nine entrances for hours. As rescue and relief workers arrived on the scene, it was unclear how many men remained in the mine, as the list of late-shift workers had been stored in the now-destroyed lamphouse. Since it was still impossible to enter the mine, the rescuers surveyed the families of the mine workers to get a complete list of the trapped miners.

At 10 p.m., as the would-be rescuers waited for an opportunity to enter the mine, there was another explosion; yet another occurred overnight. Given that the mine had only two working ventilators and the fire continued to burn, it became clear that it was unlikely the mine workers were still alive. Furthermore, the only way that the fire, smoldering in the coal deposits, could be extinguished was to cut off its air supply, which would suffocate any survivors. It was decided to drill a hole down to the area of the mine that was the only possible location of survivors.

When there was still no indication of life 10 days after the explosions first ripped through the mine, it was decided to seal the mine completely, with the 78 victims still buried inside it.

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