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Mine Disasters in the United States


United Electric Coal Company
Fidelity Mine Explosives Disaster

Du Quoin, Perry County, Illinois
February 14, 1941
No. Killed - 7



From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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(From Bureau of Mines report by G. A. Herbert)

About 9:00 a.m. February 14, 1941, an explosion occurred in the liquid oxygen explosive plant, located at the Fidelity Mine about 5 miles west of DeQuoin, Illinois, resulting in the instant death of the seven men who were at the plant at the time.

The liquid oxygen explosive manufactured at this plant was being used in blasting the overburden preparatory to stripping, or uncovering, the coal by means of electrically-operated shovels.  Liquid oxygen explosive, usually referred to as L.O.X. is a high explosive of about the same strength as 40% nitroglycerine dynamite and consists of a combustible absorbent saturated with liquid oxygen.

Usually, some form of carbon in canvas sacks is used as an absorbent to form the explosive cartridge.  It is a highly inflammable explosive and is more sensitive to impact than 40% nitroglycerine dynamite.

This disaster was due to the accidental detonation of approximately 650 pounds of explosives contained in a soaking box in wThich the carbon filled cartridge sacks were being saturated with liquid oxygen.  It was impossible to determine the cause of the detonation of the explosives as all evidence was destroyed by the blast and all of the employees at the plant were killed.  A number of possible causes for the detonation may be conjectured; a most likely one being the accidental ignition of the explosives by a match or cigarette, as smoking materials were found on the bodies of several of the victims.

The L.O.X. cartridges used consisted of a canvas sack 7" in diameter and 24" long, containing 8 pounds of carbon, and when saturated with liquid oxygen weighed from 28 to 30 pounds.  The explosive was transported by truck from the explosives plant to the pit, in the soaking boxes in which the cartridges were saturated with liquid oxygen.  These soaking boxes held 24 cartridges, or a total of about 650 pounds of explosives, and served as temporary magazines from which the cartridges were carried to the shot holes as needed.  The boxes are square with tight-fitting lids and are lined with copper and insulated with balsa wood The liquid oxygen explosive (L.O.X.) plant is located in the mine yard at the Fidelity mine, in close proximity to a number of buildings some of which are regularly occupied.

The roadway leading to the mine office and to other surface buildings is only about 50 feet distant on one side, and on the other side and about the same distance away is a railway passing track over which there is a considerable amount of switching.

Fifty feet south of the plant is a storehouse used for the storing of electrical supplies.  Within 500 feet there is a large garage for the mine trucks, and about the same distance away is a residence occupied by an employee of the mine.  The mine office and the preparation plant are about eight or nine hundred feet distant.

The explosives plant is a steel structure covered with corrugated iron, about 125 feet long and 50 feet wide.  It is divided into two sections by a 12-inch brick partition.  The larger of the two sections houses the compressors and other equipment necessary to the manufacture of liquid oxygen, while the smaller section is where the cartridges are packed in the soaking boxes and where the soaking or saturating of the cartridges is done.

In the soaking room end of the plant the soaking boxes are handled on a four-wheel rubber-tired hand truck.  From this hand truck they are loaded on the auto trucks for transportation to the pit, by means of a mono-rail traveling-crane.

After the 24 carbon cartridges have been placed in the soaking box the box is moved onto a platform scale adjacent to the brick partition and opposite the liquid oxygen storage tank in the main part of the plant.  A weighed amount of liquid oxygen equivalent to four pounds of liquid oxygen per pound of carbon is then run into the box through a bronze pipe.  During the time the liquid is being run into the box the lid is slid back about two inches to make room for the pipe, thus leaving a crack about 2" wide the length of the box.  About forty-five minutes are required for saturating the cartridges.

The carbon (gas black), was purchased in the cartridge sacks ready for soaking and received at the plant in carload lots.  The supply of carbon-filled sacks was stored in a loft above the soaking room.  When unloading and storing a car of carbon sacks it was necessary to carry them into the soaking room from the railroad car and toss them up through a hole in the loft floor.

There are two regular employees at the plant; the engineer in charge and one who packs the carbon cartridges in the soaking boxes and attends to the soaking or saturating of the cartridges.

At the time of the explosion there was a soaking box on the scales and the soaking time was about completed as the truck driver was on his way to the plant to pick up the box and was only about 600 feet distant when the explosion occurred.  In addition to the box on the scales there was another in the soaking room which had been packed with cartridges ready to be soaked.

On the morning of the explosion a supply of carbon cartridges was being unloaded from a box car, which had been placed on the siding adjacent to the plant and stored in the overhead loft.  This was being done by three laborers who were not ordinarily employed at the plant.  In addition, there were two carpenters working at the loading entrance.  One of the carpenters was on a ladder and the other was standing on the ground at its foot, holding it.

For some days prior to the explosion a painter had been engaged in painting the plant building and equipment.  Shortly before the explosion he had left the plant to get a new paint brush.

Unquestionably, the soaking box of explosives on the platform scales exploded.  All that could be found of the box, hand truck, or platform scales was one of the rubber-tired wheels of the truck.  A crater marked the location of the scales.  All of the steel members of the structure at the soaking room end were blown away, some bent and twisted beams had been blown some distance.

The bodies of the six victims at the soaking room end were all mutilated; that of the carpenter who had been on the ladder was blown about 500 feet and was mutilated the worst.  The brick partition wall and the 1000-gallon liquid oxygen tank were blown towards the north or opposite end.  The body of the plant engineer was also blown towards this end.

Smoking materials were found in the clothing of several of the victims.  Considerable damage was done to the residence south of the plant and the doors of the garage were blown off.

The box car from which the carbon sacks were being unloaded was demolished.  Some carbon in sacks and a considerable amount of loose carbon was scattered around on the ground for a radius of about 100 feet.  The soaking box with the unsoaked cartridges had been blown about 50 feet.

Several automobiles belonging to employees at the plant and parked nearby were destroyed, partly by violence but mostly by the intense heat of the explosives and the burning carbon which was thrown into the air and ignited by the explosives.


FBI and Others Looking into Mystery that Killed 7 Employees
Edwardsville Intelligencer, Illinois
February 15, 1941

DuQuoin, Ill., Feb. 15, (AP) -- At least five separate investigations were under way today in the explosion that claimed the lives of seven employees of the United Electric Coal Companies' liquid oxygen plant at the Fidelity mine near this city yesterday.

But Fred Huff, superintendent of the mine, said the cause of the blast was as much a mystery as it was Friday.  Besides the company's investigation, others were being conducted by Robert M. Medill, state director of mines and minerals, by Coroner W. E. Gladson and by insurance officials.

In addition it was known that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had entered the case but secrecy enveloped their activities.

All seven victims were instantly killed and there were no injured survivors to aid the investigators.  Some of the men were unloading lamp black cartridges from a freight car on a siding a few feet from the plant.  Others were working in the plant where the cartridges are soaked with liquid oxygen, converting them into explosives used in blasting coal and rock.  Neither the lamp black nor the liquid oxygen is explosive by itself.

So far the investigation has not disclosed, Huff said, whether the explosion occurred in the freight car which arrived Wednesday night from Samford, Tex., or in the plant.  Both the car and the plant, a two-story frame building, were demolished.

Huff said the property damage was "pretty close to $200,000."  He disclosed that much of the plant equipment was manufactured in Germany and cannot be replaced at this time because of the war.

Meantime the mine's 275 employees were idle today as survivors of the victims prepared to bury the dead.  Separate funerals tentatively are planned for all seven tomorrow.

Coroner Gladson empanelled a coroner's jury to investigate the deaths and announced an inquest probably will be held next week.

The killed were:
  • James Thornton
  • Lyle Cook
  • Russell Cook
  • Lew Barker
  • John Bailey
  • John Rapusi
  • Nelson Todd, all of DuQuoin



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