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Cleveland-Cliffs lron Company
Barnes-Hecker Mine Inundation

Ishpeming, Marquette County, Michigan
November 3, 1926
No. Killed - 51

Hour-by-Hour Description External Link
Book: No Tears in Heaven by Thomas G. Friggens External Link
Video: Barnes-Hecker: Memories of a Misfortune External Link
Barnes-Hecker Mine Disaster in the News:

The back of one of the stopes in this iron mine caved to the overlying glacial drift material and the mine was filled with water and quicksand.  Within approximately 15 minutes of the time that the cave started, all the workings of the mine were completely filled; water rose in the shaft to within 185 feet of the surface, later receding to about the 540-foot level.

Of the 52 men in the mine, only one escaped by climbing 800 feet of ladders in the shaft.  The stope that caved had been worked by top slicing, starting 220 feet below the top of the ore body.  Above this undermined thickness of ore was about 210 feet of glacial surface material, water-soaked and containing small ponds.

Although the mine workings were wet when opened, mining operations had drained most of the water from the ore stratum; the stope that caved had become dry enough to permit use of scrapers.  The amount of water handled by the mine pumps had dropped from over 3,000 to about 700 gallons per minute.

The only intimation of anything wrong noted by the man who escaped was a rush of air that blew out his light.  He was on the second level and rushed to the shaft, calling to others to follow.  The rush of water wrecked the shaft manway below the 200-foot level and carried out many of the timbers dividing the compartments; but the wall and end plates and lagging, which were embedded in concrete, were not disturbed.

The sudden flow of water prevented use of prepared bulkheads and water doors, and although emergency escapeways, including a low-level connection to a neighboring mine, weren't provided, men were engulfed before they could reach safety.

Sand came through the connection to the adjoining mine for 3,000 feet, from the connecting raise to a point where the flow gradually decreased to nothing.  Very little water came through here.

A large depression formed in the overburden above the caved stope; the fine, sandy material was water-soaked, and the banks of the depression at one point reached the edge of a small muskeg swamp.  The mine was sealed and was not recovered.

Seven bodies were found in the connecting escape drift, and three others were recovered from the shaft when it was cleared to the first level.

The conclusion of officials was that the cavity over the stope gradually enlarged as slicing progressed downward; this resulted in a sudden failure of the block of ore that had been left to support the overburden.

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

Sole Survivor:
  • Just one man, 22-year-old Rutherford "Wilford" Wills, was able to escape by remarkably climbing 800 feet in 14 minutes.
List of the Dead:
  1. Herman Aho
  2. Peter Carlyon
  3. Raymond Carlyon
  4. William Carlyon
  5. Edwin H. Chapman
  6. Edwin J. Chapman
  7. Thomas Drew
  8. Peter Durocha
  9. Earl J. Ellersick
  10. Gust Franti
  11. Joseph Gelmi
  12. James Green
  13. Jack J. Hanna
  14. Henry P. Haapala
  15. John Heino
  16. Nels J. Hill
  17. William E. Hill
  1. William Huot
  2. Frank Jakinen
  3. William Kakkuri
  4. John Kallio
  5. Thomas Kirby, Jr.
  6. Thomas Kirby, Sr.
  7. Uno Koskinen
  8. Theodore Kiuru
  9. Ed Laituri
  10. George Lampshire
  11. Richard Lampshire
  12. John Luoma
  13. Emil Maki
  14. Joseph Mankee
  15. Walter Mattila
  16. Solomon Millimaki
  17. Peter Mongiat
  1. Sam Philippi
  2. W. Harry Quayle
  3. Elias Ranta
  4. John Santti
  5. James Scopel
  6. Clement Simonean
  7. Nester Sulonen
  8. Eric Timo
  9. Walter Tippett
  10. William Tippett
  11. Louis Trudell
  12. William Toumela
  13. Nicola Valenti
  14. Splomon Walimaa
  15. John Harvey Wepsala
  16. Albert Wickman
  17. John Wiljanen

Settlement is Robbed of Male Populace
Plattsburgh Sentinel, New York
November 4, 1926

Ishpeming, Mich., Nov. 4 (AP) -- This little settlement which grew up around the development of the Barnes-Hecker Iron Mine at North Lake, was robbed of nearly every man resident by the disaster Wednesday which took 51 lives.

Today, as the slow work of recovering the dead to their families proceeded, there were only two men residents of the community to help,  The others lay in a morgue or in the mine where they were caught Wednesday by the collapse of swamp land and the subsequent flooding with water.

In the homes the widows sat comforting their children and accepting their loss with the heroic stoicism common to their English ancestry.

The disaster left 160 orphans and the school house nearby where 32 children from the community usually attended was closed today as only six children appeared today.

Only seven bodies have been recovered so far,  Fifty employees of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company perished, as did William Hill, County Mine Inspector who was on a trip through the mine.

About forty men are working to recover the bodies, one crew is preparing to bail the wrecked shaft,  Another is working in from the third level to reach the shaft from beneath.

Mine officials believe that men were working on all three levels of the mine and that most of them were on the first level, six hundred feet below the surface.

The shaft is thought to be a mass of wreckage from two hundred feet below its mouth to the bottom.

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