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Knox Coal Company
River Slope Mine Inundation
(aka Knox Mine Disaster)

Port Griffith, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
January 22, 1959
No. Killed - 12

USBM Final Investigation Report  (10.8 Mb)  PDF Format
Disaster or Murder in the Mines?  (1.7 Mb)  PDF Format
by Robert and Kenneth Wolensky
See video, "Knox Mine Disaster"  External Link
River Slope Disaster Marker
Location: 41° 18.796′ N, 75° 48.468′ W.
Marker is in Port Griffith, Pennsylvania, in Luzerne County.  Marker is in the post office area: Pittston PA 18640
Photographed by Craig Swain
Source: Historic Marker Database

From the Google News Archives:  External Link
(news links open in a separate window)

Successful Rescue

One miner, Amadeo Pancotti, age 50, was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Heroism for leading 32 miners to safety.  As the flood waters rose, Pancotti scaled a 50 foot sand-stone wall which rose generally at an angle of 75 degrees making his way to the surface.  Once there, he summoned others, who raised Louis Randazza, John Elko, and Joseph Soltis from the shaft.  A rescue team entered the mine through the shaft and found James LaFratte, Jerome Stuccio, and Pacifico Stella.  Twenty-six other men later were located and removed.  Twelve miners perished and their bodies were never recovered.

The Knox Mine disaster was a mining accident that took place in the Greater Pittston, Port Griffith, Pennsylvania, near Pittston, on January 22, 1959.

The River Slope Mine, an anthracite coal mine owned by the Knox Coal Company, flooded when coal company management had the miners dig too close to the riverbed.  Tunneling sharply upwards toward the Susquehanna River, the miners reduced the thickness of rock between the mineshafts and the river bed to about 6 feet (1.8 m) -- 35 feet (10.6 m) was considered the minimum for safety.

It took 3 days to partially plug the hole in the riverbed, which was done by dumping railcars into the whirlpool formed by the water draining into the mine.

12 people died; 69 others escaped.  One miner, Amadeo Pancotti, was awarded the Carnegie Medal for leading 32 miners to safety.  The bodies of the 12 who died were never recovered, despite efforts of divers and an attempt to pump the water out of the shafts.  Their names were: Samuel Altieri, John Baloga, Benjamin Boyer, Francis Burns, Charles Featherman, Joseph Gizenski, Dominick Kaveliskie, Eugene Ostroski, Frank Orlowski, William Sinclair, Daniel Stefanides and Herman Zelonis.

Eventually an estimated 10 billion US gallons (38,000,000 m ) of water filled the mines.  Ten people, including the mine superintendent and August J. Lippi, the president of District 1 of the United Mine Workers, were indicted on a variety of charges, but only 3 (including Lippi) served jail time.

January 22, 2009, marked the 50th anniversary of the Knox Mine Disaster, with special ceremonies held at the site of several monuments and a National Historic Marker, erected in 1999, by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.  This site is located in Port Griffith, Jenkins Township, PA, both on and near the property of the former Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic Church.  The church was closed in May, 2008, due to a consolidation of area parishes and put up for sale in July, 2008.

The deceased:
  • Samuelle Altieri, Hughestown
  • John Baloga, Port Griffith
  • Charles Featherman, Schickshinny
  • Joseph Gizenski, Hunlock Creek
  • Dominick Kavoleskl, Pittston
  • Frank Orlowski, Dupont
  • Eugene Ostrowski, Wanamie
  • William Sinclair, Pittston
  • Daniel Stefanides, Swoyersville
  • Herman Zelonis, Pittston
  • Benjamin Boyar, Forty Fort
  • Frances Burns, Pittston

Carnegie Medal for Heroism Award Recipient
Amedeo Pancotti
Pittston, Pennsylvania 1959 Press Release

Amedeo Pancotti, 50, miner, helped to save Louis C. Randazza, 54, motor runner, and others from being trapped by floodwaters in a coal mine, Pittston, Pennsylvania, January 22, 1959.

Pancotti, Randazza, and 54 other men were in the mine when rock structure beneath the floodwaters of the Susquehanna River gave way, creating an aperture through which ice-filled waters flowed into the mine passageways, which ranged from 40 to 180 feet below the surface.  Eleven men escaped through an exit shaft before it was blocked by the rapidly spreading water.  Unable to reach any exit shaft, Pancotti and 32 other men moved into an adjoining mine and started toward an abandoned airshaft at a higher level.

Pancotti, Randazza, John Elko, Joseph A. Soltis, James M. La Fratte, Jerome Stuccio, and Pacifico Joseph Stella became separated from the group and reached the airshaft alone.  The shaft, which was 10 feet square, was blocked by debris.  While three of the men searched for digging equipment, Pancotti removed some debris and detected a current of air.  Pancotti, Randazza, Elko, and Soltis then cleared a tunnel upward until they broke through the debris 30 feet above the passageway floor.

Climbing through the tunnel, they found they were 50 feet below the surface and surrounded by steep sand-stone walls.  When their shouts failed to attract anyone, Pancotti stated that he would try to scale the wall which rose generally at an angle of 75 degrees to get help before the floodwaters reached the shaft.  Although the other men warned him that the wall was so steep that he probably would fall and he killed, Pancotti climbed onto the shoulders of Elko for an initial boost.  Moving only one hand or one foot at a time, Pancotti cautiously climbed upward, pressing his body tightly against the wall and securing purchase on small projections.  Occasionally he had to remove ice or loose dirt from the projections in order to obtain purchase.

Ten feet below the surface he found no further projection within reach.  Pancotti then took hold of a sapling, which was an inch in diameter and protruded 10 inches from an ice-filled crack in the wall.  He put as little weight as possible on the sapling, which did not give way, and moved upward to another projection.  Pancotti then continued to the surface and summoned others, who raised Randazza, Elko, and Soltis from the shaft.

A rescue team entered the mine through the shaft and found La Fratte, Stuccio, and Stella.  Twenty-six other men later were located and removed by way of the airshaft, but 12 men lost their lives in the mine.

Source: Carnegie Hero Fund Commission  External Link

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