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Mining Accident and Disasters
Consol No. 9 Mine
Mountaineer Coal Company
Division of Consolidation Coal Company

Farmington, Marion County, West Virginia
November 20, 1968 - 78 Killed



Book: No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster by Bonnie E. Stewart

Video: 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster

At approximately 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, November 20, 1968, an explosion occurred in the Consol No. 9 Mine, Mountaineer Coal Company, Division of Consolidation Coal Company, Farmington, Marion County, West Virginia.  There were 99 miners in the mine when the explosion occurred, 78 of whom died as a result of the explosion.  The other 21 miners survived the explosion and escaped to the surface; seven miners working in A Face Section, four miners working near the slope bottom, and two miners working near the Athas Shaft (areas not affected by the explosion) escaped unassisted to the surface.  Eight miners working near the newly constructed Mahan Shaft when the explosion occurred were rescued via the shaft by a mobile crane equipped with a steel cable and a bucket large enough to accommodate three miners.  All of the eight miners were on the surface by 10:40 a.m. of the same day.

The forces of the explosion extended throughout the west side of the mine inby Plum Run overcast which included nine active working sections.  Generally, the ventilating controls, such as stoppings, overcasts, and regulators inby the Plum Run overcast, were damaged or completely destroyed.  The Nos. 3 and 4 fans (Mods Run and Llewellyn) ventilating the west side of the mine, the hoisting equipment in and above the Llewellyn Shaft, and part of the combination lamp house, bathhouse, and supply house located near the Llewellyn Shaft on the surface were also destroyed.

Mine fires along with several additional major and minor underground explosions interfered with and eventually prevented rescue and recovery efforts.  The mine was sealed at its surface openings on November 30, 1968. In September 1969, the mine was reopened and operations to recover the remains of the 78 miners were begun and continued until April 1978.  Damage to the mine in the explosion area was extensive, requiring loading of rock falls, replacement of ventilation and transportation facilities, and in some cases new mine entries to bypass extensively caved areas.  Investigative activities were continued, in cooperation with the Company, State, and United Mine Workers of America (UMW A) organizations, as mine areas were recovered.  Between 1969 and 1978, the bodies of 59 victims were recovered and brought to the surface.

Recovery operations ceased and all entrances to the mine were permanently sealed in November 1978, leaving 19 victims buried in the mine and leaving some areas of the mine unexplored.  The recovery and investigation lasted 10 years during which time organizational changes occurred in the four organizations involved in the recovery.  Continuity of knowledge was therefore difficult, especially when considering the scope of the recovery.  Lessons learned during early evaluation of this disaster were incorporated into the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 (p.l. 91-173).  However, the investigation was not completed and the actual cause of the explosion could not be determined.  Specific recommendations have therefore not been made in this report.

Despite the fact that the investigation could not be completed due to the extent of the damage to the mine, MSHA received a number of requests for a report on the accident.  A report was issued to accommodate those requests, and to make information available which may be of help in preventing future mining accidents.  Records taken from Federal inspection reports showed that the total mine methane liberation in a 24-hour period was 6,671,000 cubic feet in April 1967, 6,147,000 cubic feet in April 1968, and 7,918,000 cubic feet in August 1968.

Rock Dust and Coal Dust

During each of the last 10 complete Federal inspections made at the mine before the explosion, inadequate rock dusting was observed and/or indicated by analysis of dust samples at several locations.  During these 10 inspections of the mine, a total of 1,983 dust samples were collected.  The incombustible content of 96 percent of these dust samples ranged from 65 percent to 100 percent.  During five of these inspections, dangerous accumulations of loose coal and coal dust were observed along track haulage roads, shuttle car roadways, and belt conveyor lines.

The Explosion and Recovery Operations

The explosion occurred at approximately 5:30 a.m., Wednesday, November 20, 1968.  According to Company records, there were 99 miners in the mine when the explosion occurred.  Production crews, consisting of six to eight miners each, were working in the following sections of the mine: 1 Right off 6 North, 3 Right off 7 North, 4 Right off 8 North, Main West, 3 Right off 7 South Parallels and 7 South, 6 Right off 7 South, and a crew of nine miners was recovering a continuous mining machine from under a roof fall in the 5 Right 8 North section.  Also, several mechanics were repairing two continuous mining machines in the 9 North section.

These nine sections in the west side of the mine were all affected by the explosion.  Also, a production crew of seven miners was working in the A Face section which was not affected by the explosion.  This crew continued to mine coal after the explosion occurred until they were contacted from the surface by telephone and ordered to leave the mine immediately and return to the surface via the slope.

Jimmie Herron, section foreman, A Face section, on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, stated that he started his fireboss run about 6 a.m. on the morning of November 20, 1968.  He stated that he had completed inspecting part of the gob line and had taken part of his air readings when he discovered the conveyor belt had stopped.  On his way to investigate the trouble with the belt, he met Roy Wilson, mechanic, A Face section.  Wilson told Herron that he attempted to call Charles Lee Moody, dispatcher, as previously instructed, to report that 45 cars of coal had been loaded.  Wilson stated that when he made the call someone other than Moody answered the phone and instructed him to go to the face, get the A Face crew of miners, and come out to the slope as quickly as they could.  The crew proceeded on foot to the mouth of the section and attempted to operate a locomotive that was coupled to a trip of empty mine cars which they planned to use as transportation to the slope bottom.  They discovered that the DC power was off, so they walked to the slope bottom and were hoisted up the slope and arrived on the surface about 7 a.m.

At this time, about 7 a.m. on the morning of the explosion, 13 miners had come out of the mine unassisted after the explosion had occurred.

By 10:40 a.m., November 20, 1968, 21 of the 99 miners who were in the mine when the explosion occurred had survived the explosion and were safely on the surface.

According to testimony given by Wilson at the official hearing, nothing unusual had happened and everything was normal in the 7 South section during the midnight to 8 a.m. shift on November 20, until the explosion occurred at approximately 5:30 a.m.  He stated that he was near the continuous mining machine, observing mining operations, when the power went off.  He looked at his watch, it was 5:30.  He started to go to the telephone to report the power outage and took two or three steps "when this thing came in on us.  It just sounded like whoosh-whoosh, just like that through the air, and there was flying debris, rock dust, coal dust and everything so dense you couldn't see." Wilson stated that by talking to one another, the crew of miners stayed together and crawled along the coal rib down to the power center, a distance of about 300 feet.  By this time, visibility had improved.  The crew went to the first aid station where the self-rescuers and all-service gas masks were kept.

He then knew that their only chance of survival would be by way of the Mahan shaft.  The crew reached the shaft bottom at about 6:30 a.m.  At about 8 a.m., while the crew was waiting to be rescued, another explosion occurred in the mine.  Lake stated, "There wasn't much concussion, just like a large pillar fall, just a lot of force." Smoke was backing up near the shaft; several miners became sick and some became unconscious.  The crew waited at the bottom of the shaft for approximately 4 hours before they were rescued, about 10:40 a.m., November 20, 1968. Large amounts of smoke, which varied in color from black, gray and white to yellow, continued to exhaust from the Llewellyn and Mod Run intake and return shafts after the 5:30 a.m. explosion.  Also, smoke started exhausting from the Mahan shaft early in the evening of the same day.  This was evidence that a raging mine fire existed underground and was being sustained by air from the shaft openings, which alternated from exhausting to intaking.  At approximately 9:30 p.m. on the day of the explosion, flame came out of the Llewellyn shaft to a height of approximately 75 feet above the shaft, and the flame continued until 11:10 p.m.  On November 21 at 5:1.5 p.m., flame again came out of the Llewellyn shaft about the same height, but for a shorter period of time. On November 23 at 3:15 a.m., flame along with hot coals and debris came out of the same shaft to a height of approximately 75 feet above the shaft.  The Llewellyn shaft continued to release large amounts of black, grey, and white smoke; and, on November 29 at 1: 16 a.m., a major explosion came out of the shaft, and flame reached a height of over 100 feet in the air.

The Mods Run intake and return shafts also continued to release a large amount of black, grey, and! or white smoke.  A small explosion came out of the intake shaft at 6:40 p.m., and an explosion came out both intake and return shafts at 10 p.m.  on the day of the original explosion.  On November 21, a decision was made to place a concrete cap on both of the Mods Run intake and return shafts.  Both shafts were capped by 6:40 p.m. the same day.  On November 22 at 2:48 a.m., an explosion occurred in the Mods Run intake shaft and blew the cap off the shaft opening.  The blast was heard and the concussion was felt by persons in the slope office control center about, 17,000 feet away.

Approximately 2 hours later, explosions came out both intake and return shafts which blew the cap off the return shaft, and debris from the return shaft was blown about 2,000 feet from the shaft opening.  A 1 ,000-gallon capacity steel tank was blown from near the bottom of the Mods Run intake shaft up the 600-foot shaft and landed on the surface a few feet from the opening.

On November 22, the decision was made by the officials directing the recovery operations to dump crushed limestone in the Mods Run shafts in an effort to reduce the amount of intake air that was sustaining the mine fire.  By 12:30 p.m., November 23, both shafts had been filled with limestone to a height of 60-70 feet above the coal seam which sealed the shafts and stopped them from exhausting and intaking.  The Mahan shaft continued to intake air until 6:35 p.m. on the day of the original explosion when a "pop" occurred in the shaft which discharged some white smoke.  On November 28 at 2:28 a.m., a major explosion occurred in the Mahan shaft, and flame, followed by large amounts of black smoke, came out of the shaft.  The shaft continued to discharge white and grey smoke until it was sealed.

Because of the unstable condition of the mine following the original explosion, officials directing the recovery operations considered the mine unsafe to permit any further attempts.

Sealing of Mine

On the morning of November 29, 1968, a meeting was held in the control center near the slope for the purpose of discussing the progress of the recovery operations and to decide what actions should be taken in view of the unstable conditions in the mine which prevented any further attempts to reach the entrapped miners.

The consensus of these officials was that: all efforts to reach the entrapped miners were unsuccessful; the analyses of the air samples, collected from the boreholes near each working section of the mine, indicated that the atmosphere could not support life; because of the uncontrollable fire in the mine, further explosion dangers were imminent, and entrance into the mine from any location was not possible; and the only other alternative was to seal the mine and extinguish the fire.

After the decision was made to seal the surface openings of the mine, and several hours before actual sealing operations started, the next of kin of the explosion victims were notified by telephone of such plans, fulfilling a promise.

Sealing of the surface openings to the mine, which consisted of eight shafts and a slope, started about 7:35 p.m., November 29, 1968.  All openings were sealed and the Nos. 1 and 2 fans shut down by 4:25 a.m., November 30, 1968.

MSHA was notified by letter dated April 19, 1978, from Ralph W. Hatch, Vice-President of Safety, Consolidation Coal Company, that Consolidation

Coal Company was ceasing further recovery operations and was permanently closing its Consol No. 9 Mine.  On April 20, 1978, recovery operations ceased and the process of removing the mining equipment and other materials from the mine was started.

The Company officials gave the following reasons for closing and sealing the mine:
  1. The chance of ever recovering all the bodies was extremely remote.
  2. It was not likely that the cause of the explosion would ever be determined.
  3. The Company's 1974 agreement with the families of the victims called for recovery efforts to continue only so long as it was safe, reasonable, feasible, and practical to do so.  A Company official stated that recovery efforts had long since gone beyond that point, and further exposure of miners to the hazardous work of recovery was unwarranted.
A Company official stated that Consolidation Coal Company had agreed with the widows of the explosion victims to do the following:
  1. Consol would seal off and dedicate an underground area or areas of the mine to the memory of the miners whose remains could not be disinterred.  This area or areas would be where the remaining victims were believed to be located.
  2. Consol would designate on its mining maps and drawings the underground area or areas mentioned above, excluding them in perpetuity from all direct or related mining operations.
  3. Consol would designate a suitable area on the surface above the underground area or areas as a memorial site with a suitable monument.  The memorial site would be adjacent to an existing public road.
  4. Consol would maintain the memorial site and monument in proper condition.
The process of removing the mining equipment from the mine which began April 20, 1978, was completed, and the electric power was disconnected from the mine by July 28, 1978.

Conclusion

An explosion in extensive mine workings, such as the west side of the Consol No. 9 Mine, is a complex phenomenon which cannot be totally comprehended or explained.  The point of origin and the igniting agent of the first explosion on November 20, 1968, could not be determined because of the subsequent explosions, massive roof falls, water accumulations, and areas not explored.  The subsequent explosions and fires were a result of the first explosion.

Federal investigators believe that the first explosion resulted from inadequate ventilation and/or an ineffective bleeder system.  Low barometric pressure, inadequate rockdust applications, inadequate methods of controlling fine coal dust created during mining operations, accumulations of loose coal, coal dust, and float coal dust, and insufficient testing for methane were contributing factors.

The explosion was propagated throughout the north side of the mine between 3 North and 8 North by coal dust and methane from the abandoned gob area.  Propagation throughout the greater part of the west side of the mine was by coal dust.  Propagation was possibly aided by methane that may have accumulated over the extensive roof falls in the airways.

The Consol No. 9 Mine, Mountaineer Coal Company, Division of Consolidation Coal Company, Farmington, Marion County, WV, was permanently sealed on November 1, 1978.  The Closure Orders issued on the entire mine on November 20, 1968, remain in effect.