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Mine Disasters in the United States


Oak Coal Company
Little Oak Mine Asphyxiation

Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois
March 28, 1955
No. Killed – 1



Rescuer Death

Arthur Kaemmerer, 40, became asphyxiated while he and Andrew Yuengel were exploring the abandoned Little Oak mine preparatory to salvaging rails, wire, and other related materials.  The pair were equipped with non-permissible Bendix back-type oxygen demand masks, however, the oxygen supply provided was quickly exhausted.  Attempting to get help from those on the surface, Kaemmerer was found dead about 600 feet from the shaft.  Yuengel managed to reach the shaft bottom where he was hoisted to safety.


On March 28, 1955, Arthur Kaemmerer, 40 years of age, was asphyxiated in the Little Oak mine, Belleville, Illinois.  He was an experienced salvage operator and not a mining man.  The fan was in operation and ventilation had been partly re-established for about 3,000 feet inby the shaft bottom.  Kaemmerer had obtained the help of Andrew Yuengel, who was regularly employed at a nearby coal mine, in further exploring the Little Oak mine preparatory to salvaging rails, wire, etc.

On the morning of March 28, Kaemmerer and Yuengel entered the mine through the main shaft, leaving two workmen on the surface.  The purpose of the trip was to explore part of the main west haulage road.  Each man carried a carbide lamp, a permissible electric cap lamp, and a non-permissible Bendix back-type oxygen demand mask equipped with a 38-cubic-foot oxygen tank.  In addition, Yuengel carried a permissible flame safety lamp.

About 3,000 feet from the shaft bottom the flame of the safety lamp went out because of oxygen deficiency.  When this happened the oxygen demand masks were put on, and the investigation continued for about 20 minutes more before the men turned back.  After traveling about 100 feet Yuengel’s oxygen supply was exhausted.  He removed his mask and staggered another 100 feet, with some help from Kaemmerer, and then collapsed.  Kaemmerer tried to pick Yuengel up, but found he was unable to stand.  Yuengel told Kaemmerer to go on out and get help.

Yuengel rested on the mine floor for about 15 minutes without losing consciousness and then struggled back about another 100 feet.  He kept resting and retreating in this manner for about 600 feet toward the shaft, at which point he found Kaemmerer’s body.  His hasty examination convinced him that Kaemmerer was dead, so he resumed his tedious journey to the shaft, alternately resting and traveling.  Upon reaching the shaft bottom he signaled the men on top by hammering on the bucket used for entering the mine.  The top men lowered the cable, which Yuengel hooked to the bucket, and he was hoisted to the surface.  He sent one of the top men for help, and several hours later two mine rescue teams arrived, and Kaemmerer’s body was brought to the surface.

This accident varies considerably from others covered in this publication, but it is an excellent illustration of what not to do when entering an abandoned mine.  Any person intending to enter an abandoned mine should follow the advice of people having knowledge and experience in such procedure.  In many States it is unlawful to enter or reopen abandoned mines without the guidance of a State mine inspector.

Source: Loss of Life Among Wearers of Oxygen Breathing Apparatus (April 1959) PDF Format



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