Farmington Mine Disaster

Extracts From The
Official Hearing

Coal Mine Explosion

Consol No. 9 Mine
Mountaineer Coal Company
Farmington, Marion County, West Virginia

November 20, 1968


As near as I can remember right now, when Ray Kuhn called me, he stated that, I believe he used catastrophe or something like that, but that something terrible had happened. So, I questioned him again and he answered me again, he said, "No, the parking lot is all blowed up up there." He said, "You can't see or anything in the parking lot. The lights are out; it's dark, smoke or dust," or whatever he mentioned. I hung up immediately. I didn't give him any instructions, but I called my boss, Kenny Kincell, and told him, and he told me to get to the mine as soon as possible, and that he would do the calling and get other people to the coal mine. I turned around then and called the superintendent, Foster Turner, and reported to him, and he took off to the mine. I tried to call the outside number, which is the hoist house number outside at the cleaning plant, and I got no answer, so I thought of the phone, bell phone, we had down at the bottom. We used to have a dispatcher on the bottom there, so we had a bell phone connection there, and I called that number and that was Mr. Parker, and he answered just like we would be talking here in this room. I asked him then if anything was wrong; I asked him what he was doing first. He said, "Dumping coal." I said, "Anything wrong over there?" He said, "No." And I asked him if he could talk on the telephone to the dispatcher, and he said he didn't know, he had been talking. I said, "Well, you ring him," and he told me then over the bell telephone that the phone was still. I said, "Have you talked to him on the radio?" I had been and have been hearing them talk. I said, "You try the radio." So, he tried the radio and he got no answer again. He said, "I'm talking to the motorman back of me," so, I asked him if he could talk to the motorman again, so he talked to the motorman, and he said the motorman was blocked in with one car yet he had to dump. I said, "I tell you what I want you to do. You get ahold of that motorman and make sure that he gets his buddy; you get your buddy," he was down under the dump, "and get outside as quickly as you can, and if there is no one on the hoist or no power on the hoist, don't wait - walk." I called next then the county police and asked them if they would dispatch me two radio cars. I followed the one car that was going to the slope out of Fairmont myself; the other one I think was ahead of it, and as soon as I got to the slope I talked to the boys that come out, two motor- men and the two dumpers, and asked them and they didn't know a thing that had happened. They hadn't had any contact with anyone on the other side. The bell phones were down, mine phones were down, and no information whatsoever except what I had so I went out to the radio car and dispatched a call to Llewellyn to tell Mr. Kincell that No. 1 fan and No. 2 fan was running and everything on our side was alright. So, I was standing by... The bell and the mine phone are right close together, and I was standing there and heard the bell phone ring and that was the A face crew. I asked them where they were and they were still in A face. They had been told by someone from the bottom earlier to come out and they were still in A face, so I told them to get out of there and come to the slope as quickly as they could, and I waited on them and they got out. I think it was right at 7 o'clock. I wrote it down on the log book up there, and in the meantime the mine phone rang again and it was Mr. Conaway and Mr. Mullins and they were at the bottom of the elevator. And, Mr. Mullins was on the telephone and I asked him if they pushed the button on the elevator and he said, "Yes," and I told him to stay on the telephone and see that it came down, and he said, "It sounds like it's coming down." So, I think I instructed him to stay on the phone and the minute the elevator came down and the doors opened to get on it, and as soon as he got outside to call me from outside. Then I dispatched one of the boys that was working outside at the tipple in his own car up to the portal to pick these two fellows up and bring them down. The two men at the elevator and the A face crew then actually got outside pretty close to the same time, which was very close to 7 o'clock. From then on, I had contact with Kincell and people from the other side as to what had happened. That's about all I can tell about that.


Well, when this thing first happened, we heard this loud noise and the gas lines and windows shattered in the house and my wife said, "That pumphouse blowed up." We have a pumphouse setting out from the house and we have gas in it to pump water for those three houses and we had lit the gas that evening and that's what she said, "The pumphouse blowed up," and I went and looked and couldn't see no fire. I went back to go back to bed and she said, "What time is it." We had a man there that we had to get up at 6 o'clock to put him out to work and that's how come I looked at the clock. So I laid there, I expect 2 or 3 minutes, and she said, "Something's smothering me, smoke from someplace," and so I got up and looked for fire again. Well, I didn't discover that the fan had been down right then because I was used to it and she said, "The fan is down," and I said, "Well, the motor has burned up on that fan and throwed them blades off it, that's what made that racket." It had a fashion of throwing the blades off it and making a big noise - you know. So, I laid back down and she said she couldn't lay there because of smothering on account of that smoke. So, she got up and we sat around there and I decided, I don't know what time it was now, we decided to call over at Llewellyn and tell them that the fan was down, because I was concerned about that fan because I knew that there were men in there working. But, I don't know what time I called now, but I couldn't get no answer. So my daughter called me up on the hill, she lives above me, and she said it was 5:30. And I asked her again last night what time it was and she said it was 5:30 when she said she called me and said she was up smelling the smoke. And that's practically all I know about it.


Well, approximately 5:30, I was up at the miner where we were mining coal and the power went off and one of the buggymen said, "Hey George, the power went," and I said, "I just noticed that, I'll go down and see." And, I taken, I expect, two or three steps when this thing came in on us. It just sounded like "whoosh-whoosh" (mouthed sounds), just like that through the air and there was flying debris, rock dust, coal dust and everything so intense you couldn't see. So, the way we kept together there, we kept talking back and forth you know and we crawled along the rib and along the bottom until we got down below the power unit where this air was coming from this Mahan Run shaft and then we could see - partially see, because my eyes were full-it just felt like my eye balls was cut up from this flying debris that was flying...

I sent two men down the belt drive. The reason I did this, I gave them full instructions thinking -- I was afraid of here in this case I was afraid these men would perhaps panic and maybe one may go one way and one another and that was my main concern, to keep those men together, because I knew only too well if we were to reach safety we would have to reach it through Mahan Run shaft. I knew that, and I instructed these fellows very thoroughly and if they didn't come back in a certain length of time that we would have to come and get them and this would jeopardize us all, but to make every move they possibly could to bring this young Paul Henderson back up. He was working on the loading point at that time. So, when they came back, they couldn't find him, they went down around the empties and loads and looked up the belt and anyway what we think, we'll never know until it's all over what happened here. This boy might have panicked and run towards Llewellyn. He might have thought that this happened on my end and that was his way home -- he knew that, and that's the only thing that I can see that would have happened here...

When we got -- when these boys came back, we proceeded to the bottom of the shaft and smoke began to dense around there and we began to get sick and five of us got in pretty bad shape and I've not gotten straightened up yet, I'll put it that way. But I told them, "Boys, whatever we do, we don't leave here. If we are to get out of here, we go this way or we don't go." I knew that and I could tell when the boys come back and told me that there was stoppings out down there to the loading point and that this overcast was gone, I knew just about what we had. I didn't know the intensity of it until we got out, of course, but I knew if we were to reach safety or get out of there we had to come that way.


We were mining coal as usual and all at once the power went off and I hollered at Shorty, "What's wrong with the power." I think I took two or three steps and all this dust came right at us. At first I thought it was the cable and then I knew that it was something I had never seen in the mines before, so I got down on my stomach and started to crawl down where the oxygen was and George said, "Lewis, get up out of there and let's get out of here because this is something we've never been in before."...

We worked our way down to the power unit and it kinda cleared up a little and we got into where we eat our dinner, we got our buckets and coats and we all got organized and we started toward the power shaft and came to this overcast that was blown out and fresh air was there. And, so two boys volunteered to go down to the headpiece, the loading point, and look for Paul Henderson. We waited there until they came back and then we all went to the shaft together...

Well, we pounded on this 4-inch pipe with a piece of wood, whistled up the pipe, and hollered. When we hollered, we didn't think it was doing any good because it seemed to echo. We stayed there and we decided not to use our self-rescuers until we thought we needed them and then we felt this second explosion. And we got our self-rescuers and we sat all through that and some of the men passed out and I passed out myself and Gary Martin, he had a gas mask, and he slapped me on the face and he said, "Lewis, if you don't wake up and help me, we're going to lose two or three of these men." So, I got on my feet. I couldn't hardly stand, I couldn't hardly get up because in this explosion, when we kinda passed out, this thing would drop out of our mouth...

Well, it seemed like an eternity before they came and they began to drop supplies down tons on a rope and then they dropped a telephone down and told us that they had a crane and that as soon as they could get things organized, they would get us out of there, but I guess they had a lot of trouble out there too...


I was on a buggy behind the loading machine and the power went off. I thought maybe a buggy cable had come in two, and I stepped off the buggy and turned around and looked at my cables and the dust and the dust come up this hill...

I had a hooded sweat shirt on and just that quick, I stepped off the buggy and the dust - the dust and everything - you couldn't see anything and I was lost, so I just grabbed the hood of my sweat shirt and pulled it over my face and sat down; there wasn't any use trying to go any place, you couldn't see anything, nothing at all...

Yes, after a while, it settled down a little bit. We started hollering at one another and the boss and the miner operator and loading-machine operator who worked in front of me at the miner and they came back along the machine to the buggy and we all got together and went back down to the heading where our buggy cables were in over and to the track heading and from there on to the shaft...

Well, we didn't go directly to the shaft. We stopped in the track heading and one of the fellows was in the dinner hole, and as well as I remember, I brought the self rescuers and we collected the buckets and stuff, coats, so on and so forth, and we happened to think about a boy that was on our dump and two fellows went down and checked on him and the rest of us went to the shaft...

Two of them went. It must have been about 15 minutes to 6, and they found his bucket down there, but he wasn't down there. They had written a message on the side of the car in the dust telling him that if he came back there to come to the shaft. After we all got to the shaft, after everybody got back to the shaft, some of the fellows started getting sick and passing out. I don't know whether it was from carbon monoxide, or whether it was from shock, so on and so forth. I guess it was just a mixture of both, but it must have been about, as well as I can remember, 7 o'clock I suppose. There were the buggy operator, the loading-machine operator, and miner operator; the boss and the utilityman had passed out and I got to thinking that if that boy up on the dump couldn't get too far with all the smoke and dust there was, and I went back up to the track heading and looked around for him, but couldn't find him any place. I thought he may be coming up the belt heading to the section, and I went over into the belt heading and he wasn't there. I don't know where he went. About 8 o'clock, there was another explosion and the dust and smoke came off again, and it wasn't long after that until they got a phone down to us and some All-Service gas masks and oxygen assister, so on and so forth...

I had an All-Service gas mask on and I wasn't about to take it off. I kept my self-rescuer in my mouth even at the bottom of the shaft. Well, naturally, you're not all going to stand up, you know, and I mentioned to one of the fellows that they had better watch pretty close because if they took their self-rescuer out of their mouth, that carbon monoxide could sneak up on you pretty quick. I didn't think there was too much chance of that happening with all that fresh air coming in that shaft, but apparently it did. After I went back out to the track heading, I went back down a piece looking for the boy that was on the dump. The smoke you could still smell. It smelled like burned coal dust. I lifted my mask up for just a few minutes, just pulled it up off my face, and the air wasn't what you call real bad, but it wasn't real good. There wasn't too much smoke and dust at that time, but that was before the second explosion...

Our dump is right in here someplace (Mahan) and it was either one of these two headings; I think it was this one. That boy was looked for at the belt drive and on both sides of the cars, in the cars and under the cars. His bucket was setting on the dump pretty close to the belt drive and his dust respirator was still on. I guess he figured he was going to go out the way he came in...

I thought that if the boy had run that way that with the smoke and dust, he couldn't got very far. I went back down the dump, I don't know how far it was, I thought maybe he would go back down the track heading, but I couldn't find him...

I just went. Everybody was passed out like I said, but myself, and two other fellows, and I think the other two fellows were pretty well shook up, of course. I was pretty scared myself, but I just couldn't see that boy getting very far in that smoke and dust on the section. The shaft had to release some of the pressure. I thought maybe he was laying down unconscious someplace...

Smoke came back on us. It blew empty rock-dust sacks part way up the shaft. There was small pebbles, just a mixture of a whole bunch of stuff. There was a pump house at the bottom of the shaft and I guess the first explosion had even moved some of the blocks in that pump house so it must have been pretty strong coming out of that shaft.

Written statement presented at the hearing by Alex M. Kovar:

"Wednesday morning Nov. 20, 1968 Russell Foster called me at 3:30 a.m. Slope bottom DC breaker was out. I went out, put the breaker back in approx 3:45-4:00 a.m. Went straight to No. 1 fan, checked the fan and changed the chart. Then I called Russell to tell him that the breaker was in and the set on.

"Went into the bath house and spoke to Jim Yost and Fluharty, he was eating dinner, he ask me if I had fan trouble, I said No, that I had station trouble. I changed clothes, went to the shop, started to work on a Tokar conveyor speed reducer, worked approx one hour.

"The ground trembled, then the lights dimmed and came back on in the shop. The slope stopped then came back on. I started the truck up and went to the slope phone and tried to call the lamp house. The phone rang but there was no answer. Then I called Cecil Selders at his home. I told him that the lights had dipped and that I tried to call the lamp house but couldn't get an answer. He said that he would come out.

"I pulled the AC power on the slope bottom also the DC breaker. I pulled the DC power at Atha Run, checked No. 2 fan, the water gauge drop[p]ed a little bit about 2% momentarly, then it was back to normal. Then I went to Plum Run and pulled the power. From there I went to No. 3 fan, stopped on a bank before I got to the fan, the explosion doors were opened and smoke was coming out. I backed up the truck and went to Jim Simons house and knocked on the door. Mrs. Simons answered the door, I asked to use their phone, she said that I could. I tried to call the slope but the line was busy. I ask Mrs. Simon if she would put the call through 'for me and to tell them that I was on my way to Llewellyn, I wrote the phone number on a piece of paper, she said she would call for me.

"When I got in the parking lot at Llewellyn, Joe Garcia flagged me down with a flash light. I could see with the truck lights that there was damage done. I ask Joe where Cecil Selders or Lawarence Riggs was. He said that Cecil was on the upper road going down the road, so I turned the truck around and went after him. I caught up with him at the intersection at Route 250. I told him that I was at No. 3 fan and that the explosion doors were opened and smoke was coming out. He said that it was torn up here too, meaning Llewellyn. He said for us to go back to the slope. When we got to the slope, Lawarence [sic] Riggs sent me to Atha Run to check the elevator and see that it would run, there were two mechanics on the bottom to come out. I took my meter with me, I walked up the elevator stairs, when I was near the top I seen the two mechanics, they were outside, they waved to me I returned the wave and went on up the stairs. I pushed the SAB button, started the elevator, sent it to the bottom, it went down then came back up. I came back down the stairs and unlocked the gate. Fay Cassidy went through the gate and into the building to use the phone. C. Selders and L. Riggs came up the hollower.

"There were two outside fuses were blown on pole 72. Louie Gardi pulled the air switch and replaced the fuses and left the switch open. Cecil and I was sent to No. 3 fan. Cecil was to check the damages done to the fan. I was to unhook the bucket at the air shaft and see that it was taken to Mahan Run. When we got near No. 3 fan I stopped in front of Bowans house, as black smoke was coming out of both shafts. There was a Mustang in back of me and C. Selders was in back of him. I parked the truck in the middle of the road. I told the man in the Mustang that he couldn't go through, then I told C. Selders to park his truck and we would go in the one I had. I told C. Selders that it was going to blow again and it did about a minute or two later.

"We drove the truck by the air shaft. I parked it on the road and walked over to the hoist. C. Selders and I checked the air switch and it was locked open. He told me to go to a phone and call Chet Conrad and tell him that the air switch to Mahan Run was open. I went again to Jim Simons house to use their phone. I called Chet Conrad and he told me to get that bucket over to Mahan Run. While I was at the Simons house I also called my wife to let her know that I was alright and ask her to call Mrs. Selders and let her know that Cecil was alright also, While I was making the phone calls Cecil was checking No. 3 fan.

"Buck Fluharty and Alda Freeman was at the air shaft. We took the bucket off. Spike, the hydra crane operator, loaded the bucket on Freemans truck. Freeman did not know where Mahan Run shaft was, I told him that I had orders to show him where it was and to get him there. He started out with his truck, I ran to the truck I had and started out and caught up with him at John Huffs place, I passed him there, I put on my blinkers and Freeman put his blinkers on also. I drove ahead of him motioning all on coming traffic to the side, when we got to the shaft, a foreman wanted to know where the hydracrane was. I said he was coming. At that time I did not know that there were any men at the bottom of the shaft.

"The hydracrane wasn't there yet so we decided to go and look for him. Buck Fluharty was to go towards Llewellyn, I was to go towards Stewards Granite Works at Rt. 250. Another truck was to go down the old road to Rachel, to look for him. We met him a short ways down the road. We turned around and came back. We took a short cabel [sic] from Roams truck. We put on a new cabel [sic], 1000 feet, we cut off approx 150 feet, then hooked the bucket up and lowered it into the shaft. First we brought up two men, we lowered it again and brought up three men, again it was lowered and brought up three more men.

"Joe Mason and I went in the truck and came back to the slope. Wayne Petty, Joe Mason and I went to Monongah to Central shop to pick up some cable and lights. We were to string lights at Mahan Run shaft. We went to Mahan Run shaft and strung the cable, put lights in two trailers. Penn Line hooked up three outside lights and put in transformers.

"Joe Mason and Chet Conrad sent a Penn Line foreman and I to put power on the air switch at Mods Run to feed the line to Mahan Run shaft, after this was we returned to Mahan Run shaft.

"Wayne Fetty and I was sent back to Atha Run to put in the air switch to feed the Mahan Run. After this was done I asked Joe Mason and Chet Conrad to be relieved and I was. I took a bath and came home about 8:00 p.m.

"Dewey Toothman was on the car at the loading point when I went into No. 1 fan on Wednesday morning Nov. 20, 1968.

"No. 1 fan chart was left in my car. Before I came home I gave it to Foster Turner.

"I took the belts up on No. 1 fan on Monday Nov. 18, 1968. Cecil Selders told me to do it. They were not slipping but they needed taken up. Mike Mudry came into the fan when I was tightening the belts.

"Tuesday Nov. 26, 1968 L. Riggs called me at my home, said that he had a couple of days work for me, for me to get someone to work with me. I asked Orville Martin. We went to work about 8:30 a.m. We plugged bore holes on the right side of the hollow.

"We worked the next day Wednesday Nov. 27. L. Riggs asked me to check the fan chart on No. I fan. Orville and I checked it and I signed the book. Then we worked up the hollow up to No. 2 fan. The fan was still running.

"Was told by L. Riggs to get wrenches to take off the valve at the lake at Mods Run. Didn't get there as I got sick and had to come home. Came home about 2:30 p.m.. Left the wrenches in the truck for Orville."


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