from Eyewitness News Online
Nov. 20, 1968 - Explosion At Farmington Mine Kills 78
By Heath Harrison
May 12, 2013
In the early hours of Nov. 20, 1968, a gas and dust explosion took place at the Consol No. 9 Mine near Farmington and Mannington in Marion County.
99 workers were inside the mine when the blast, which could be felt 12 miles away, occurred. Over the next few hours, 21 of the miners were able to escape to safety, but 78 remained trapped inside.
Flames from the fire reached as high as 150 feet into the air at the site and hampered any efforts at a rescue as they continued to burn for a week.
After nine days, rescuers determined, by using air samples from boreholes, that the air within the mine could not support life. The mine was ordered sealed in order to starve the fire.
The exact cause of the blast was never identified. However, federal investigators believed the blast was a result of inadequate ventilation. Improper control of explosive methane gas and coal dust was also cited as possible contributor to the disaster.
The mine was unsealed a year later, and crews attempted to recover the miners’ bodies. The effort continued for 10 years and 59 of the trapped bodies were found. Nine years later, in 1978, the mine was again ordered sealed, after crews determined there was no chance of recovering the remaining 19 bodies.
The disaster was a catalyst in the push for tougher safety laws for mining. U.S. Rep. Ken Hechler, D-W.Va., was widely credited for his leadership following the blast and was a key player in getting the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 passed. Hechler personally paid for the cost for many of the Farmington widows to come to Washington to make their case for the act’s passage.
The 1969 act strengthened safety standards and established the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to administer and enforce mine safety standards. The legislation was updated and strengthened with the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.
This week’s video features 1983 package from WCHS which marked 15th anniversary of the disaster, featuring some of the surviving family members and file footage of the explosion.
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