The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America's Richest Silver Mine

The Deep Dark:
Disaster and Redemption in America's Richest Silver Mine
by Gregg Olsen

On May 2, 1972, 174 miners entered the Sunshine Mine on their daily quest for silver.  Aboveground, safety engineer Bob Laundhart sat in his office, filing his usual mountain of federal and state paperwork. From his office window he could see the air shafts that fed fresh air into the mine, more than a mile below the surface.  Usually the airshafts emitted only tiny coughs of exhaust; unlike dangerously combustible coal mines, Sunshine was a fire-proof hard-rock mine, lined with nothing but stone and dripping wet from the pressurized water that blasted away at the tunnel walls.

There were many safety concerns at Sunshine, but fire wasn't one of them.  The men and the company swore the mine was unburnable.  So when thick black smoke began pouring from one of the air shafts, Laundhart was as amazed as he was alarmed.

Eighty-one men were able to escape the mine when the alarm sounded, but 93 men were trapped underground, too deep in the mine to escape the poisonous air.  Ninety-one miners died almost immediately below the surface, frozen in place as they drilled, ate lunch, napped or chatted.  It wasn't smoke that killed them, but a blanket of colorless, odorless carbon monoxide so thick it couldn't be measured.  No one knew what was burning, or where the lethal gas came from.  But in one of the deepest corners of the mine, two men, Ron Flory and Tom Wilkinson, were left alive and in total darkness, surviving off their dead friends' lunch boxes and a trickle of fresh air from a borehole that kept the carbon monoxide from swallowing them up.

Aboveground the miners' families waited and prayed as rescuers, wearing scuba tanks, dragged the bodies of their loved ones back to the surface.  But only 91 bodies were recovered, and none of the men who had escaped alive could remember seeing Wilkinson and Flory leave the mine with them.  In THE DEEP DARK, Gregg Olsen's tremendous gifts as a writer looks beyond the intensely suspenseful story of the fire and rescue, to the wounded heart of Kellogg, a quintessential company town that would never recover from its loss.  It's a vivid and haunting chapter in the history of working-class America, and one of the great rescue stories of the 20th century.

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