Whitewell, Tennessee December 8, 1981 No. Killed - 13
At approximately 12:00 midnight on December 8, 1981, an explosion occurred in 003 section of the No. 21 Mine of Grundy Mining Co., Inc., located at Whitewell, Tennessee. There were 56 men in the mine when the explosion occurred; 13 died, 43 survived. Six remained underground to participate in the recovery operations, and the remainder escaped to the surface.
MSHA investigators concluded that methane accumulations in the Nos. 2 and 3 Left gob off 5 Right flowed through a 1.22-m by 2.13-m (4-ft. by 7-ft.) hole and test boreholes in No. 2 and No. 3 entries of 003 section. Because intake air to the section was short-circuited from the faces at a crosscut between No. 2 and No. 3 entries (3 crosscuts outby the faces), methane migrated into the 003 section from the faces of No. 2 and No. 3 entries.
It was concluded that a miner using a cigarette lighter ignited the methane-air mixture, causing the explosion. Apparently the miners saw the burning flame front just after ignition. This observation is supported by the fact that 12 of the 13 victims were headed outby when they were overcome by the explosion. In further support of this conclusion, personal effects (miners' hats, a hammer, two flame safety lamps, and a jacket) were located inby the bodies of the victims.
These observations indicated to the investigators that the miners were traveling away from the ignition source.
Conditions and practices that contributed to the explosion include:
The failure of miners and management to abide by smoking prohibitions.
The failure of management to provide ventilation controls necessary to maintain adequate ventilation in the 003 section and to maintain an effective bleeder system for the 5 Right abandoned area.
The failure of management to remove miners from the area affected by methane migrating from the intersected 5 Right abandoned area.
Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume II