Layland Mine Disaster

Fayette Tribune
March 4 1915

Roaring Blast From Layland Mine

"Safest" Mine In New River Dist. Rolls Up Record Breaking
List To Near Two Hundred Dead.

Worse than Eccles, Second to Monongah

Six Only Escape Alive. But Four of The Dead Recovered by Wednesday
Evening - Thundering Report Shook Mountains at 8:45 a. m. Tuesday

Over Thirty Country Miners Among the Dead

Majority Of The Victims Were Foreigners, Only One Colored
Man Being Numbered Among The Dead.

Search of Mine Necessary To Determine Exact Number Who Were at Work - No Checking System Used and Identification of Dead Will Be Difficult and Uncertain - First Rescue Party Entered at 11 a. m., and Remained Two Hours - Heated Condition of Mine and Slate Falls Retarded Rescue Work - Ab Cooper, Store Porter, Killed Outside Mine - Company Officials Refuse To Give Information - No Correct Full List of Victims Obtainable Until Bodies Are Recovered - Little Hope For Those Now Missing For Over Thirty Hours.

The worst explosion in the 40 years of coal mining in Fayette county occurred at Layland, on Laurel Creek Tuesday morning. The "safest" mine in the whole New River district was the one to make a death roll that promises to reach near 200. Neither gas nor dust existed in the mine yet the destroying element roared through the two miles of workings with a thunderous shock felt for 10 miles about the country.

Only six of the near 200 men at work in the mine have come out alive. There is little hope for those still held in the heated mine.

The bodies of four foreigners were brought out of the mine up to noon Wednesday. One of these was recovered at noon Tuesday and the other three were brought out about [illegible] Wednesday morning.

Rescue work is being retarded by the heated condition of the interior of the mine. Little gas has been encountered and Deputy Inspector Holiday has been the only one of the rescuers to feel the effect, of this. He was overcome Tuesday evening and had to be carried out of the mine. He quickly recovered.

The entire staff of the state mining department under the directory of Chief Henry and the government mine Car rescue crew are doing everything in their power.


There was no check system of those who went to work in the mine and [illegible] the number of men is unknown and will only be ascertained after the entire mine has been searched throughout. The identification of bodies of victims when found will be very difficult and uncertain.

The bodies of the few recovered were not mangled or badly burned. They were identified as foreigners by the car checks found on their person.


Company officials refuse absolutely to give out any information of the disaster, the most meagre details being denied the newspapers. The wildest [illegible] of rumors prevail. The Tribune's information was gathered under most adverse conditions by a representative who visited the scene Tuesday evening and as here narrated is believed to be the true fact.


There are five mines of the New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Company located at Layland on the head of Laurel Creek eight miles from Quinnimont. The explosion was in No. 3 mine, the most important operation of the company and located in the center of the town of Layland, formerly known as Gentry. It is the highest mine in all this section of the state, working the Fire Creek seam of between 3 and 4 feet.

The regular number of miners employed in No. 3 mine has been from 175 to 200. For the last week the mine has been well supplied with men and it is the general opinion that between 180 and 200 men went to work Tuesday morning.


Of those employed in the mine probably two thirds were foreigners, Russians and Italians, and the others were country folks from the farms about Springdale, Backus and Crickmer. The names of over 30 of these country people are given elsewhere, not one of whom is believed to have survived. There were no colored miners employed in the mine but the destroying force reached out of the black depths and claimed a negro porter from the store who was standing about 75 yards from the mine mouth, Ab Cooper and his dog.


Cooper was pushing a railroad truck loaded with goods from the store for delivery to some of the houses above the mine. He was directly in front of the blast that shot from the mine mouth. He was hurled against a telephone pole with sufficient force to break the 8-inch chestnut pole short off. He was not killed outright but died within an hour while on the way to the hospital.


The force of the explosion at the mouth of the mine was something terrific. The heavy masonry about the mine entrance was blown out and the fall of earth over the mouth of the mine half closed it. A stone motor barn 50 yards from the mine had all the window sash blown out. Half a dozen houses near by had all the windows broken and one house occupied by a family named Bryan had a portion of the roof lifted off and household goods overturned and broken. Nobody was hurt in the houses or anybody outside the mine except the colored porter. The wires and connections of the fan was stopped for about half an hour. Until the fan was started dense black smoke poured out of the mine for several minutes. Ashes and soot settled over everything.

So unexpected was the explosion that everybody stood dumb about the mine for several minutes. Supt. Clapperton and a number of his Minden men were the first from the outside to go to the rescue. They reached Layland on a special train within an hour and a half.


About eleven o'clock the first of the rescue parties entered the mine. Supts. Clapperton and Kneer, Mine Boss Nahodel, R. O. Tully and John Shields were among the first to venture in. They found the air good and remained in the mine nearly two hours. Several falls of slate were encountered but generally the interior of the mine was not badly damaged. This party met four foreigners coming out. One of these was "Big Jack" Koxelfsky and he was carrying Benny McDaniel on his back. McDaniel had been stunned and was too frightened to walk. Two other foreigners who came out ahead of this party were the only ones to come out alive.


Deputy Inspectors Absalom, from Montgomery, and Holliday, from Beckley arrived at the mine at 2 o'clock, being the first of any of the mine officials to get there. John Laing, former chief mine inspector, was early on the scene and directed the efforts of the rescue workers. A special train of 75 miners from Minden arrived at 5 o'clock. The U. S. Mine Rescue Car No. 8 was near Bluefield but was rushed through by special train and reached the mine at 9 o'clock Tuesday night. Chief Henry and a number of mining men from all parts of the state came in late Tuesday night.


The work of the U. S. mine car rescue crew was greatly hampered on account of being unable to get the car and its appliances to mine, as all the material had to be reloaded on tram cars. There is no railroad track nearer than two miles of No. 3 mine.


A crowd of probably 500 were about the mine Tuesday evening, a large number of them coming from the country for miles around. There were no weeping anguished women about the mine and curiosity was the prevailing feeling of the crowd that lounged about the roped enclosure. The motor barn windows were boarded up and the place fitted for a morgue. There was but one body in there Tuesday but tonight and tomorrow it will not hold the dead. Seventy five coffins were taken up Laurel creek on the first train Wednesday morning and as many more are on the way.


As to the cause of the explosion nobody knows. There was no gas in the mine and no dust. Every precaution possible was taken by the rich and powerful Berwind-White organization to make the property safe. The company prided itself on its "Safety First" organization. A special mine inspector is employed, Robt. Muir, former state inspector and one of the recognized experts, who devotes his entire time to inspection of the properties of the company in this state.

Mr. Muir was at Layland Friday, four days before the explosion, and inspected every portion of No. 3 mine. It was considered by every official and employee of the company as the safest mine of all. On account of its recognized safety a large number of inexperienced country farm boys sought employment there in preference to other mines.


Officials of the state mining department were dumbfounded with news of the disaster. Said John Absalom, deputy mine inspector in this district: "I could not believe it. Of the 95 mines in my charge, this is the last one I would ever look to see an explosion in. There has been no gas, no dust, normal atmospheric conditions prevail throughout. It is nearer the clouds than any mine in the state. I inspected it thoroughly January 20 last and found conditions perfect. I don't understand it."


The mine is owned by the Berwind-White Pennsylvania interests who also own the Minden operations and others at Berwind on the N. & W. The Layland operations were opened up about 8 years ago, large sums being spent on the property making it the most expensive mining operation in the county. H. M. Bertolett is general superintendent of the company interests in the state. Oscar Kneer, formerly at Minden, is superintendent of the Layland mines and L. J. Nahodel is general mine boss. There are about two miles of workings in No. 3 mine. The coal is mined by picks mostly, very few machines being in use. Layland was formerly known as Gentry, the name being changed about two years ago.


There is much speculation among the miners as to the cause of the explosion. Being without gas or dust it is hard to conceive of one of these agencies being responsible for the explosion but it is certain that they contributed to the disaster. One theory is that a fall of slate opened a fissure of gas. A blow out shot from the solid may have made dust. Presence of great quantities of smoke after the explosion supports the dust theory. It is a question for the experts to settle.


U. S. Mine Rescue Car No. 8, in charge of Inspector Parker and half a dozen experts came from Bluefield via N. & W. and Kenova.

The car was run special and was given a record run, leaving Kenova at 5:16 p. m. and arrived at Quinnimont at 8:30 p. m., making an average speed of about fifty miles an hour. A remarkable feature of the run is the fact that the engine was run from Kenova to Quinnimont a distanct [sic] of 132 miles without stopping for additional water.


Among those who went to work Tuesday morning were Charles and Quince Caldwell, brothers, both married, and sons of Lewis Caldwell of near Ansted. They had been working in the Layland mines from two years. News of the explosion was received by the Ansted relatives in time for Mrs. Wiseman, a sister, to go to the scene on train 14 Tuesday. The Caldwells were quite prominent and well known throughout the county.

Another well known miner mourned as dead is John Atkinson who was an assistant mine boss. He was beloved by a large circle of friends. He leaves a large family.


L. J. Nahodel the mine boss was detained Tuesday morning but would have been in the mine half an hour later. It was the first day for many weeks that he had not been in the mine early in the morning.


At three o'clock Wednesday evening the rescue parties had advanced to the fifth left, a distance of about 1,200 feet. New brattice has been extended this far and the mine is normal to this point. There are no bodies in the mine up to this point. No tidings comes from those who have now been in the mine for 30 hours and all are believed dead.


The Minden miners went quickly and eagerly to the rescue. Supt. Clapperton and a dozen he hastily summoned on hearing the news went on a special train. In the evening nearly a hundred more went on another special. Every man was ready to help and all were soon assigned to work. They will stay on the job as long as they can by of service.


There is not a more inaccessable [sic] mine in the county than Layland. After reaching Greenwood, which is as far as the railroad runs, 6 miles from Quinnimont, it is necessary to go up an incline haulage for a quarter mile and then an electric hauling for 2 miles further. The cars were kept going constantly and every accommodation possible was rendered by the mine employes to handle the crowds.


A special government mine rescue car is coming from Pittsburg and will be on the scene Thursday morning. It is Car No. 7 which was at the Carlisle explosion a few weeks ago.


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