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Eccles Mine Explosions


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On April 28, 1914, a miner in Eccles No. 5 mine in Raleigh County blew a hole through a barrier of coal in an effort to shorten the distance between his assigned working areas, effectively shortcutting the mine’s ventilation and allowing methane to accumulate. Another miner’s open-flame light ignited the gas, setting off a violent explosion killing all 174 men in No. 5. The mine connected with Eccles No. 6, operating in another coal seam, and nine men in No. 6 died of injuries and of afterdamp, the deadly gas left after a mine explosion.

It took four days to reach the first casualty. The massive recovery effort required a temporary morgue to deal with body identification, and a frantic attempt to locate enough coffins. Government mine officials were joined by local volunteers, and Governor Henry Hatfield traveled underground with some of the exploration parties. This explosion remains West Virginia’s second-worst mine disaster.

On March 8, 1926, another explosion killed 19 miners at Eccles, then operated by a subsidiary of the Stonega Coal Company. Around 6:55 p.m., a cutting-machine operator in No. 5 mine failed to test the face for methane, and an electric arc ignited the gas. Fine coal particles, present in the air because of a failure to rock-dust the mines, contributed to the explosion.

Again, both of the interconnected mines were involved. Thirty-five workers in No. 6 were rescued, but wreckage in No. 5 hindered progress. The following evening, rescuers discovered a chalked sign to come to a particular section. R. M. Lambie, the state’s chief mine inspector, led the effort and was himself hospitalized after collapsing from exposure to afterdamp. Around 9:30 p.m. on March 9, rescuers reached 10 men who had saved themselves by barricading.

 

e-WV presents West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Eccles

 

Written by Paul H. Rakes

Sources

  1. Dillon, Lacy A. They Died in the Darkness. Parsons: McClain, 1976.

  2. Humphrey, H. B. Historical Summary of Coal-Mine Explosions in the U.S., 1810-1958. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1960.

  3. West Virginia Department of Mines. Annual Report. 1914.