Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Willow Island Disaster


Willowislandpowerplant-def-001_up_medium

An April 27, 1978, scaffolding collapse at Willow Island in Pleasants County ranks as one of West Virginia’s worst non-mining industrial disasters. Fifty-one men were at work atop the construction scaffolding when it suddenly collapsed, sending them plunging to the ground, 168 feet below. None survived.

The scaffolding had been erected for use in the construction of a new cooling tower at Monongahela Power Company’s Pleasants Power Station, adjacent to the Willow Island Power Station on the Ohio River downstream from St. Marys. The men were preparing to pour a new layer of concrete when the scaffolding peeled away from the tower. The victims included a handful of supervisors who had come to the project from out of state, but most were local construction workers. Pleasants County became the focus of national media attention as grieving families buried their dead. One family counted four of five sons, a brother, two brothers-in-law, and three nephews among those killed.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied fines against three construction companies involved in the project, charging negligence. A federal grand jury heard evidence in the case but returned no criminal indictments.

In 2012, FirstEnergy Corporation, the parent company of Monongahela Power, announced plans to close the Willow Island plant, along with two other coal-fired plants in West Virginia. The others are in Albright, Preston County, and Rivesville, Marion County. Willow Island was scheduled to close on January 1, 2019; however, under a settlement agreement approved by a bankruptcy court in October 2018, the plant will remain open through May 2022.

Written by James E. Casto