Benwood Mine Disaster

The Wheeling Register
April 29, 1924

Dead Bodies Cover Mine Floor

No Hope Held For Lives Of Victims In Gas Explosion

Bodies Remain in Mine And Will Not be Moved Until Today, Rescuers State

2 A. M.

Twenty-seven bodies have been discovered. It is reported that only about 2500 feet separate the rescue workers pushing slowly forward from the two entries. Officials say that none of the bodies will be removed until this morning. It is said no hope is held for the resuce of any men alive. Pure air is now coursing the main entry.

1 A. M.

A number of bodies are reported to have been discovered along the entry passing from the Brown's Run air shaft to the main entry. Special crews are pushing the work of bratticing the mine into separate air sections by use of canvass.


Frank Seamon, one of the rescue workers, calling by telephone from the bottom of the air shaft reports that the advance men have reached "North No. 5" in the main entry. Bodies are being found in the different sections. Pushing ahead with all possible speed advance men have been unable to check the number of dead.

One hundred and eleven men trapped in the Benwood mine of the Wheeling Steel & Iron Co. by the gas explosion yesterday morning are all believed to have perished.

Rescue workers driving forward over fallen stone and through afterdamp and gas find conditions which permit no hope of any of the men being alive.

Twenty-seven bodies had been discovered at 3 o'clock this morning, twenty-four from the air shaft entry along Brown's Run, two miles east of Benwood, and three others crushed under rock in the main entry at Benwood.

Stunned by the terrific concussion of the gas blast, crushed under fallen stone, or seared by the flames which swept through the entries, many of the men had evidently died at the spots where they worked. It is said that after-damp or gas must have accounted for those who may have survived the explosion and the caving in of stone.

Ten teams of expert rescue workers at both openings of the mine, working in relays, are pushing forward with all possible speed. Men from Pittsburgh, Steubenville and Glendale working along the entry from the air shaft had reached the main entry a mile and a half from the Benwood opening at 3 o'clock this morning. Progress up to this point had been difficult but conditions in the main shaft were worse.

With every facility for rescue work on hand and teams from as far as Altoona, Pa. And Williamson, W. Va., working to reach the imprisoned men it is feared that all efforts will be unavailing.

14 Found Early

Fourteen bodies recovered by early evening, these lying nearest the entry, and with gas and after-damp present, told of the fate of the men farther back in the mine.

Doctors and nurses have been waiting faithfully at both entries to the mine. The explosion which caused what is expected to be the second worst mine disaster in the history of West Virginia came a few minutes past seven o'clock only a short time after the men had entered the mine to start their work.

A deafening blast of air, a rush of smoke and gas fumes, rocked and tore the sand house and motor sheds, sweeping sections of sheet iron high into the air, came from the mine entry way.

News Spreads Fast

News of the explosion spread rapidly and mill workers and later men from other mines in the neighborhood quickly began plans for relief. The extent of the disaster was not realized until several hours later when the first of the rescue teams after reaching a point three hundred yards inside the main entry, found the way blocked by a fall of stone, piled from floor to roof.

Lafferty In Charge

A. E. Lafferty, district deputy state mine inspector stationed at Moundsville, assumed control of the rescue work at the Benwood entry. Hopeful that the men trapped back in the mine were still alive he quickly made the calls for aid which brought rescue crews from all points in the tri-state district. Mr. Lafferty was the first man to enter the mine after the explosion, and led the relief measures all through the day until late at night. R. M. Lambie of Charleston, state mine inspector, arrived last night to take charge.

Gas Accumulates

A general gas accumulation along the main entry is believed to have been responsible for the explosion. Those leading in the exploration of the mine are agreed on this fact. As the report of the explosion spread through Benwood and then to Wheeling wives and relatives of the imprisoned workers started in a mad rush toward the mine.

Women, frantic with fear and many tugging and carrying small children, ran through the heavy rain and wept and wrung their hands piteously as anxious queries were answered only by grim shakes of the head.

Business came practically to a standstill in Benwood. Thousands of persons from there and Wheeling began congregating in the vicinity of the mine to watch the start of the rescue work. Ropes had to be strung and guards stationed later in the day to keep the vicinity of the entrance clear for the rescue teams.

News Travels Fast

First word of the disaster reached Wheeling half an hour after it happened. Its magnitude however was not known for a couple of hours later when it was ascertained the number of men who were at work in the shaft. The news swept around with startling rapidity and from 10 o'clock for the rest of the day business routines were more or less upset through curiosity of employes and alarm of employers. Long before noon a general exodus of people from Wheeling started toward the scene. Street cars and automobiles wore a beaten path through the devious routes leading to the pit-mouth of the Benwood mine in the mill yard of the Wheeling Steel Corporation Benwood.

Crowds Invade Benwood

When the crowds began to assemble, mill officials deputized employes to stand guard at all entrances to the yards to prevent the people from gaining access. Great throngs fringed the highway which overlooks the yards and many banked themselves on the hill-side. The more intrepid flocked down along the B. and O. tracks to the mill fence and these were so dense, passing trains slowed down to a crawl to avoid accident. Later in the morning the B. and O. roped off its tracks.

Pitiful Scenes

The crowd that swarmed around the gate was dotted here and there with women, mostly foreign, crying and wringing their hands in futile efforts to get word of husbands, sons or brothers who were in the mine. Those whose morbid curiosity drew them close to entrance, gave way when these unfortunates sought information. To add to the pitiful scenes, many of the women ran frantically around to isolated parts of the mill property climbing over debris and impedimentia hoping to get inside. They also traversed the Benwood streets haggard of expression and wandering about aimlessly.

Rescue crews reached Benwood early. The Hitchman company dispatched its crew as soon as word was received and joined the Benwood mill workers. The Richland mine force was next on the scene. The Wheeling Steel Corporation's crew from Steubenville arrived before noon while the Holmes rescue car from Pittsburgh reached Benwood by one o'clock. With the latter came two Pittsburgh newspaper representatives. Later in the day more Pittsburgh newspapermen arrived.

Owing to after-damp and other poisonous gases, the work of entering the Benwood pit was very hazardous and considerably delayed. In shifts of one hour each, the rescue parties entered the mine and worked back by degrees till a depth of about 2,500 feet was reached about 2 o'clock. Here an impenetrable mass of earth and slate was encountered. The air was considerably cleared and a force of men were sent in with picks and shovels in the hope of reaching those who might be beyond the barrier. They worked in as long relays as they could stand and never ceased throughout the night.

What bodies were recovered were not brought from the mine entrance but tenderly laid aside inside the shaft. The utmost reticence was maintained by the mill officials regarding the number of bodies that had been recovered. The party from the United States Department of Mines arrived at Benwood from Pittsburgh shortly before noon and the mill officials.

Wear Gas Helmets

The LaBelle mine rescue team entered the Brown's Run entry at 1:30 accompanied by a crew from the Hitchman Coal Co. Only eight men, all of the LaBelle team wore oxygen helmets, the others with great rolls of canvass to be used in partitioning the entry, followed behind the helmet men raising the canvas at short intervals to keep the air fresh in the rear of the advance workers.

Slowly the rescue team pushed their way through the blackness. Step by step they made their way toward the main entry, a mile away. Four times they stopped in the course of the slow journey where inert forms of stricken miners blocked their way. Each of the four were dead. Two were badly burned, the condition of their bodies bearing mute evidence of the force of the death dealing blast which sept through the mine.

Victims Carried Back

The four bodies were tenderly carried back to the foot of the air shaft by eight of the 40 men in the rescue party while others pushed on ahead. Keeping going until the main shaft was reached. So far no fallen stone blocked their way. But the temperature rose rapidly.

After an hour and a half in the mine level the oxygen tanks grew low and the men were forced to return to the ground for rest while the oxygen was being replenished.

"No Hope"

"There's no hope, I fear." Andy Wilson, captain of the LaBelle team grasped as he reached the top of the long winding stairway up the shaft.

Men of the rescue team were perspiring, worn, and several badly bruised and cut from their difficult trip through the darkness.

Coffee and food, medical treatment at the first aid tent and they were ready to descend again, only there was a short delay awaiting more oxygen to charge their helmets.

The LaBelle team at the air shaft entry was composed of Andrew Wilson, captain, Joseph Aluszyk, James McNabb, Alec Hammond and Alec Russel. They were accompanied by John P. Wilson, superintendent of the LaBelle mine.

On their first exploration trip into the mine the team leaders reached the bosses shanty near the main entry.

Relatives Trapped

Alec Russell, one of the hardest working and courageous members of the team, not only sought to discover any living miners, but he was urged forward by the knowledge that father-in-law, G. K. McGill, and his uncle, Hugh McGill, were among those held in the mine when he reached the surface it was without word of either man.

Russell and the other team members discovered signs of the dead after-damp. It was their belief that this accounted for the death of those men who were not killed in the expl[o]sion.

Rescue Workers Arrive

Later in the afternoon rescue teams from the Glendale Gas & Coal Co. mine and the United States Department of Mines at Pittsburgh arrived to join in the work. Working two teams at a time, in relays, the men slowly pushed their way along until by shortly after seven o'clock, when darkness fell, the advance men had reached a point only a few feet from the main entry.

By this time, according to reports coming from the bottom of the shaft by telephone eleven bodies had been recovered. From the position of the bodies it appeared that most of the men had been stricken at the spot where they worked, first stunned by the terrific concussion of the explosion, and then suffocated by the after-damp.

Supplies To Scene

Supplies were being hurried by every possible means. When trucks and automobiles became stalled the oxygen tanks, food, blankets, lanterns, lumber and canvass for the brattice work, were transferred to horse wagons and with the teams straining and sliding over the unbroken fields of soft clay, the long haul to the air shaft was finally accomplished.

It is estimated that more than a thousand automobiles were lined along one side of the narrow road leading from Boggs Run to the Brown's Run entry. This added to the troubles of those trying to get supplies to and from the entry. With only one side of a narrow road open, many of the supply vehicles slid in the side ditches and stuck.

Volunteers Aid

Frank Wallace, assistant superintendent of the National Tube Co., Dr. William Cruse and E. A. Ellis, the latter a steel corporation official, directed the activities of the numerous volunteers around the air entry while the rescue teams labored heroically below the ground. After dark Harry Edge, employment manager of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, relieved the exhausted leaders and remained all during the night. A Mr. Adams, superintendent of carpenters, for the Wheeling Steel & Iron Co., was another man who gave his best from early morning till late in the night in every form of activity that led to expediting the work of rescue.

Carpenter In Statement

An official statement from the Wheeling Steel Corporation was secured last evening, through General Manager Carpenter and authorized by President I. M. Scott.

The statement carried the information that the explosion occurred at 7:05 a. m. Monday, and that most of the men had entered the mine at 6:30 o'clock. Federal and state rescue crews are on the scene, and are doing a wonderful work, aided by a great number of volunteers.

Mr. Carpenter said that the official number trapped in the mine, so far as can be ascertained, is 111. Nothing definite on the cause of the explosion has been learned, and at 6 o'clock Fire Boss J. T. Poyle came out of the mine and reported conditions normal.

He said that it is hoped that a definite statement can be given by late today.

R. M. Lambie, chief mine inspector of West Virginia, said after a short inquiry that no official statement on the probable cause of the explosion will be made until a th[o]rough investigation has been made.

Mr. Lambie brought Deputy District Inspector Griffith to Benwood, and Deputy Inspector A. E. Lafferty, who had been on duty since early morning, was temporarily relieved.

The first move of the mine chief was to inspect the work being done at the mill yard end of the mine. He spent an hour checking up the situation there, and returned to the surface.

Mr. Lambie held a short conference with General Manager J. W. Carpenter upon his arrival, and demanded a complete blueprint map of the mine workings. He then announced that there will be no bodies removed from the mine at the present.

Using the blue print furnished, the location of each dead body recovered will be marked, the bodies numbered in the turn they are uncovered, and later each will be removed to the bottom of the air shaft and identification established if possible.

No effort toward identification of any of the bodies found up to an early hour this morning had been made. On a hand of one of the dead men was found a Masonic ring, and as is is known by friends of George W. Holliday, Sr., mine foreman owned and wore such an emblem.

The Benwood Mine Disaster

As the horrible, shocking details of the terrible Benwood mine disaster became known yesterday, the heart of the whole Wheeling community went out to those who had suffered and to the despairing families left behind.

At 7:30 o'clock Monday morning 125 healthy, happy men - fathers, husbands and sons - were alive and well. Two minutes after they had moved into the mouth of the Benwood mine of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, they were dead. In the face of such appalling catastrophies one necessarily ponders upon the reason for life and death and what it is all about. Here today and gone in the flickering of a second! All that now remains of the hearty men who left their homes in high spirits to take up their labors in the bowels of Mother Earth there to wrest out that black treasure which men use for producing heat with which to melt, mould and make, is their charred and blast mutilated bodies. Some have been brought to the surface and conveyed to the home surroundings familiar to them in life, and where now mourn women and children who loved and knew the blackened forms returned unto them.

How the accident happened is as yet a matter for exports to decide. The Benwood mine is one of the oldest and most extensive in this section. It has been worked for years without serious mishap and it is understood that every precaution, every safety appliance, had been taken or installed to make it as danger-free as possible. Yet, without warning came the fatal blast that snuffed out the lives of more than one hundred men.

All that was humanly possible in the way of rescue work was underway shortly following the explosion, but such work was necessarily slow due to death-dealing gases that filled the mine. As some of the bodies found near the airshafts were brought out the fate of the others appeared sealed. Yet hope springs eternal in the human breast. Distracted women and children no doubt filled their minds with prayers that in some corner of the black, underground passages might be huddled and living the men who went forth in the morning to earn for them bread by the sweat of their brows.

If not, may a good God have mercy upon their souls.

111 Lost in Mine Blast

Benwood Mine Officials Issue Official List of Those Who Were in Mine at Time of Accident.

General Manager J. W. Carpenter, of the Benwood plant of the Wheeling Steel Corporation last evening announced the official list of men who entered the mine shortly before the blast occurred. The numbers are mine check numerals. The complete list follows:

2 - Patsy Corsi, 62 Sixth St. Benwood.
1 - Walter Likomy, Address not known.
3 - Ralph Albrea, 322 Main St. Benwood.
4 - Antonio Himill, 43 Wood St. Wheeling.
5 - John Discarino, 446 Water St. Benwood.
6 - Domenico Cognetti, Marshall St. Benwood.
8 - Gamneci Felite, 513 McMechen St. Benwood.
9 - Stany Mikolitch, 1519 First St. Benwood.
10 - Mike George, 279 Marshall St. Benwood.
12 - Guy Vetello, 501 McMechen St. Benwood.
19 - John Galembiewsky, 3934 Jacobs St. Wheeling.
20 - Patsy Ferri, Seventeenth St. Bellaire.
22 - John Malyska, 4728 Eoff St. Wheeling.
23 - Theodore Korakas, 313 Main St. Bridgeport, O.
24 - Mike Zojckski, 72 Marshall St. Benwood.
25 - Viecuty Viedwona, 706 Main St. Benwood.
26 - Santo Parise, Stop 10 Marshall St. Benwood.
27 - Stiny Robinsky, 1520 High St. Benwood
29 - Joe Hido, 2948 Forty-Eighth St. Wheeling.
31 - Kasimen Kopetcz, 109 Marshall St. Benwood.
32 - Carlo Caneva, Stop 10 Marshall St. Benwood.
33 - John Sloga, 706 Main St. Benwood.
35 - Charles Ferrante, 1022 Marshall St. Benwood.
36 - Nick Marino, 1408 High St. Benwood.
38 - Felix Lisak, 4409 Woods St. Wheeling.
40 - Joe Kolodziczesyk, Boggs Run R. F. D. No. 2.
41 - Walter Olizajek, 73 Eoff St. Benwood.
42 - John Zyk, 22 Forty-Sixth St. Wheeling.
44 - Mike Paradise, 2417 Market St. Wheeling
45 - Joe Sannch, 15 Marshall St. Benwood.
47 - Joe Gannakes, 2117 Market St. Wheeling.
49 - Ralph Vetello, 501 McMechen St. Benwood.
50 - Ignado Pirrera, Hamilton St. Bellaire.
51 - Joe Mareo, Address not known.
52 Nick Moleski, 68 Eoff St. Benwood.
53 - Peter Simos, 2100 Market St. Wheeling.
54 - Dan Zelle, 30 Sixth St. Benwood.
55 - Adam Djuzabovicki, Address not known.
56 - Dan Marfin, 703 Seventh St. Benwood.
57 - Jas. Angelus, 2634 Chapline St. Wheeling.
58 - Frank Magzella, 418 Main St. Benwood.
61 - Mike Stofeski, 4615 Jacob St. Wheeling.
62 - Ksimer Konetz, 4334 Forty-Third St. Wheeling.
63 - Peter Onost, 101 Eoff St. Benwood.
67 - Wasil, P__y, 47 Wetzel St. Wheeling.
68 - John Swo__, Benwood.
70 - Sam Albino, 531 McMechen St. Benwood.
72 - Lorenz Wiadnowski, 4345 McColloch St. Wheeling.
73 - Sgnatz Orban, Box 351, Boggs Run R. F. D. No. 2 Wheeling.
75 - Mike Kozlemko, 4601 Jacob St. Wheeling.
77 - Albert Slagh, 36 Sixth St. Benwood.
78 - Theodore Shalika. Boggs Run R. F. D. No. 2. Wheeling.
83 - Nick Podola, 50 Forty-Third St. Wheeling.
85 - Sam Vettello, Fifth St. Benwood.
86 - Guiseppe Rea, 1408 High St. Benwood.
88 - Frank Conti, 449 Main St. Benwood.
90 - Tony Kwiecien, 4525 Jacob St. Benwood.
91 - Stany Rody, Address not known.
92 - Rotelling Marlant, 609 McMechen St. Benwood.
94 - Andy Shalika, 73 Marshall St. Benwood.
95 - Ignatz Gojewski, 723 Water St. Benwood.
98 - Unidentified at office.
99 - John Zellacick (correct name: John Jelacic), 854 Marshall St. Benwood.
101 - John Pokovitch, Address not known.
107 - Mike Malaxanake, 806 Marshall St. Benwood.
109 - Den Dukic, Main St. Benwood.
110 - Domenik Cooper, 4522 Water St. Wheeling.
111 - Steve Yargo, Box 354 R. F. D. No. 2, Wheeling.
112 - Alex Horwath, Boggs Run, R. F. D. No. 2, Wheeling.
116 - Emanuel Papulas, 2301 Market St. Wheeling.
117 - Nick Mavroginakis, 401 Huron St. Wheeling.
127 - George McGill, 1148 Water St. Wheeling.
130 - Hugh McGill, 1148 Water St. Wheeling.
- George W. Holliday, Sr., Mine foreman, Benwood.
151 - Walter Sneddon, 3 North Huron St. Wheeling.
152 - George W. Holliday, Jr. Benwood.
153 - Wm. Webster, 1052 Main St. Wheeling.
154 - Kenneth Ward, Moundsville, W. Va.
156 - Mike Petrick, Address not known.
161 - Sam Dombroski, 110 Thirteenth St. Moundsville.
162 - John Frank, Jr. 1507 Marshall St. Benwood.
163 - Pete Bitzanis, 360 Marshall St. Benwood.
164 - Alexander Sneddon, 1319 McColloch St. Wheeling.
165 - Tony Melack, Address not known.
166 - Joe Pocnalle, Address not known.
169 - George Costello, Address not known.
171 - J. J. Boyle, Fire boss, 723 Main St., Benwood.
173 - George Stakoski, Address not known.
179 - Leonard Levicki, 34 Main St. Benwood.
180 - Mike Capablaco, 1024 Marshall St. Benwood.
181 - John Frank, Sr., 1507 Thompson Ave. Moundsville.
182 - Mark Crosby, 909 Marshall St. Benwood.
183 - John Daplos, 105 Marshall St. Benwood.
184 - Pat Syfana, 2825 Washington St. Bellaire.
185 - James Howe, Address not known.
186 - Angelo Savinos, 37 Marshall St. Benwood.
187 - Stanley Golmbivsky, 3934 Jacob St. Wheeling.
189 - Jas. DiCocio, 1342 High St. Benwood.
194 - Lewellyn Joseph, 124 South Huron St. Wheeling.
195 - William Smith, Address not known.
196 - Joe Kerensky, Address not known.
199 - Sam Senchok, 1418 Water St., Moundsville.
200 - John Kopcha, 829 Grant Ave. Moundsville.
202 - Rocco Capabinnco, 1024 Marshall St. Benwood.
203 - Joshua Rawlins, 2203 Second St. Moundsville.
Theodore Runionski, Address not known.
Stanley Barnoskie, 4601 Jacob St. Wheeling.
Andy Panac, Address not known.
John Pollisco, Address not known.
James Skudney, 612 Main St. Benwood.
175 - Russell Williams, Address not known.


West Virginia Archives and History