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Phillips and West Coal Company
Phillips and West No. 1 Mine Explosion

Robbins, Scott County, Tennessee
March 23, 1959
No. Killed - 9

USBM Final Investigation Report  (3.0 Mb)  PDF Format

The mine was classified non-gassy by the Tennessee Division of Mines.  Pre-shift, on-shift, and weekly examinations for gas and other hazards were not made.  No flame safety lamps were available at the mine.

The fan was started each morning shortly before the men entered the mine and stopped when the shift was completed.  This fan was not in operation between the completion of the shift on Friday and 6:40 a.m. Monday; the explosion occurred at approximately 7:30 a.m.  Eight of the eleven stoppings in the main entries were constructed of brattice cloth and three were open.  There was also a 32-inch opening in one of the permanent stoppings 550 feet outby the face of the entries.

Methane gas, believed to have been liberated from a faulted or "pinched" zone occurring in the room adjacent to the active working area accumulated during the period the mine fan was down.  When the fan was started, this gas migrated through the brattice cloth stoppings and/or open crosscuts to the haulage road where it was ignited by arcing when the trolley wheel of the locomotive left the wire or by workers smoking.  All nine men underground died of burns or toxic gas fumes resulting from the gas and dust explosion.

Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume II

Nine Killed in Mine Explosion
Kingsport News, Tennessee
March 24, 1959

Robbins, Tenn. (AP) -- A gas explosion ripped the interior of a small coal mine near here Monday, killing all nine men in the shaft.

The blast occurred at 8:30 a.m., EST, about a half hour after the men entered the mine.

It took rescue workers five hours to recover all the bodies, which were badly burned and torn.  The bodies were found about 4,000 feet from the mine entrance.

The victims, all of whom were said to be related either by blood or marriage, were:
  • Burt Phillips, 52, and his two sons, Hubert, 30, and Arzo, 17
  • Oscar West, 47
  • Bernard, 33, and Willard Yancey, 36, brothers
  • John L. Pike, 48
  • Elmer Phillips, 38
  • Ed Chitwood, 50
All of the men lived in or near Oneida, the Scott County seat 18 miles north of here.

Burt Phillips and Oscar West were operators of the mine, described as a family enterprise which normally employed eight or 10 persons.

The mine, in the Cumberland Mountains about eight miles east of here, produced 50 to 60 tons of coal daily.  The fuel is distributed by trucks.

Sheriff D. E. Rosser, one of the first to reach the scene, said: "There is no doubt about gas being the cause of the explosion."

Audio Acres, a veteran miner who assisted in the rescue operations, said the gas pocket apparently collected over the weekend.

"The mine's ventilating system was cut off over the weekend," Acres said.  "This apparently allowed gas to collect."

Acres and other miners expressed the opinion that a spark from an electric motor touched off the explosion.

Federal and state inspectors who came here from Knoxville withheld comment pending an investigation.  They helped supervise rescue operations.

Smoke which filled the shaft and fallen rocks loosed by the explosion slowed recovery of the bodies.

Rescuers said the first four bodies were found face downward as if the men were running toward the mine entrance.

Scores of relatives and friends of the victims milled around the entrance until the bodies were brought out.

The only mine employee who survived the explosion was W. O. West, 50, brother of Oscar West, and one of the co-owners.

West said he was working at the tipple about 50 yards from the entrance when the blast occurred.

"I heard the explosion and the next thing I knew coat dust came gushing out of the mine and covered me," he said.

West hastily organized a rescue party.

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