Siltix Mine Disaster

Beckley Post-Herald and The Raleigh Register
July 24, 1966

Silence, Terror Grip 2,000 At Scene Of Death Mine

By Teek Rice
Register Staff Writer

Silence and a blazing sun engulfed more than 2,000 people just inside the corporate limits of Mount Hope Saturday as they waited for some encouraging word.

It never came.

Instead, the silence of expectation was shattered at about 3:30 p.m. by the screams and wails of the families and friends and just onlookers as the news traveled through the crowd that the last five miners had been reached. They were all dead, making a total of seven dead and six injured.

The stage for such wracking human emotion was the Siltix Mine of the New River Company.

With the prayer, "Oh, God, don't let it be him," softly on her lips, one young wife rushed to the gate leading to the mine and begged to be let inside. Her way was barred by a Fayette County Deputy Sheriff who had been told by W. R. Haslam, company president, to keep everyone out.

Other wives rushed up the steps behind the first, some sobbing, some deathly pale, all begging to know for sure the fate of their men.

A woman on the adjacent highway fainted. Her daughter, screaming loudly, "Help my momma," ran berserk through the crowd. A middle-aged, neatly dressed lady sobbed quietly into her handkerchief, wadded tightly in her fist.

Family groups pressed toward the drift mouth of the death mine. Then the men and boys led the sobbing women to cars.

The heartbreaking climax came after a day of waiting, broken only be several false alarms as rescue workers came and went from the mine.

Two hours after the explosion, the body of Luke Bowyer was brought from the mine along with six rescue workers who were overcome by fumes from the mine, classified as "gassy" by the West Virginia Bureau of Mines.

As the "man trip" carrying the injured rescuers emerged from the mine, tension increased, prayers went up that the five announced as trapped had been brought out.

It was short-lived relief, however, as Haslam reported rescue workers had not located the men in the dense smoke and fumes underground.

The search continued. Rescue work was hampered when the motor carrying the next rescue team toward the drift mouth suddenly started smoking within feet of the entrance. Repair proving too lengthy, the motor was pushed away by other miners nearby waiting to help their co-workers.

At about 11L30 a.m., off-duty miners employed there began reporting, asking how they could be of help, some among them had not stopped long enough to pick up work clothes.

Two teams of rescue workers ploughed through the dangerous tunnel, some two and a half miles underground, for the next few hours, finding, at least, the bodies of the dead.

Feeling of extreme thankfulness and joy turned to despair for a young Mt. Hope woman as she stood holding her 10-day-old daughter.

Seeking to comfort the hysterical young woman, a deputy sheriff asked her the name of her husband.

Inquiring of the several black-faced miners who emerged from the mine after the explosion, the deputy was told that Robert Daniels, 21, had spoken to one of them and was among the rescue workers.

The deputy told Mrs. Daniels her husband was safe and would return to her side when rescue operations were complete.

The young woman happily posed for pictures (below) with her tiny daughter, only to learn later that her husband was dead.

All the news was not bad. Some 41 miners survived the blast.

One joyous reunion took place soon after the uninjured miners returned to sunlight. The small daughter of Adrian Keeney, Kilsyth, was lifted to the fence to hug her coal-blackened dad, who returned to aid rescue efforts.

At about 3:30 p.m., a company spokesman told waiting newsmen, "We've found them. They are all dead."

Almost immediately the two rescue teams returned to the sunlight. The quietness which had been predominate all day became more obvious. The crowd was aware something was about to happen.

"The bodies are on the next "man trip;" the spokesman said. Camera crews got frantically busy setting up television cameras on the side of the railroad tracks al[l]otted to them near the gate.

Other news photographers took their places all within the small area the management allowed for their use.

As it became apparent the return of the bodies was imminent, State Troopers and Sheriff's Deputies from both Raleigh and Fayette counties, acting on orders from Haslam, ordered the whole battery of newsmen off company property.

Tempers, already battered by the sun, the long wait and a few tears of sympathy for survivors, flared. "What will happen if we don't go?"

The question was shrugged off by officers who made it clear the order was not their will and they were simply acting as told.

Grumbling, but undaunted, newsmen were forced to seek other vantage spots for their picture-taking.

Then the wait resumed. Minutes grew into an hour, and still the bodies were not brought from the mine. Much later, the tragedy reached its climax when the dead were recovered from the dark pit.

The day was ending, but it would never be over.


West Virginia Archives and History