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Mine Disasters in the United States


Naomi Disaster Memorial

United Coal Company
Naomi Mine Explosion

Fayette City, Fayette County, Pennsylvania
December 1, 1907
No. Killed - 34

1907 PA Bituminous Annual Report  (2.0 Mb)  PDF Format
Listing of the Fatalities (official)
News Articles


(From the 1907 Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Mines, p. 23)

An explosion of a very serious character that resulted in the death of thirty-four employees and the destruction of considerable property occurred at the Naomi mine of the United Coal Company, located near Fayette City, Sunday evening, December 1, between seven and eight o'clock.

The explosion was caused by gas being ignited by an open light or an electric spark or flame from the electric wires, and it was greatly augmented by coal dust.

Henry Louttit, Inspector of the First District, in which the explosion occurred, arrived at the mine soon after the accident and took active charge of the work of recovering the bodies.  He reported the accident to the Department of Mines early the following morning, Monday, and fourteen of the Bituminous Inspectors were directed to go at once to his assistance.

After a brief examination of the conditions, the impression prevailed among the inspectors that no one would be found alive in the mine, as the after damp would in all probability have smothered those who were not burned by the gas or hurled to death against the sides of the mine by the force of the explosion.  The miners, most of whom were foreigners, were at work almost a mile from any entrance.  The night shift had gone to work a short time before the explosion, and as it was Sunday night the number of men was fortunately small, there being only 34 out of the 350 employees at work.

The explosion was one of terrific force and attracted persons for miles around.  A crowd composed largely of women and children soon reached the mine, and the usual sad scenes were enacted that are a part of the history of every disaster of this nature.

The work of rescue was made exceedingly difficult by the fact that the main entrance to the mine had been effectively blocked by the fallen roof and by the deadly fumes of the after damp that filled the shaft in which the rescuers were working and against which it was impossible to battle long at one time.  Many of the passageways were blocked by old timbers that had been blown down.

The miners from the neighboring operations and the officials of the company all rendered every assistance possible in the work of relief.

Only one man, an unknown foreigner, (out of 34 employees), reached the surface after the explosion occurred, and as he reached the open air he fell unconscious from inhaling the gas fumes and died in a few minutes.

The mine is a slope mine opened several years ago.  The conditions existing in the mine had been the subject of consultation between the Inspector of the district and the officials of the mine, and during the year several communications were sent to the mine officials calling attention to the necessity of keeping the ventilation and the means of escape in case of emergency up to the requirements of the law.  No great danger was apprehended from the accumulation of gas, although at intervals more or less gas had been encountered.  The quantity, however, had been so small that open lights were used generally throughout the mine.

During the year the Inspector examined the mine on February 26, May 14, August 5 and November 12, but did not at any time find the conditions such as to warrant drastic measures against the officials, but on account of the mine generating a small percentage of gas he was opposed to the use of electricity where the gas could be detected by the ordinary safety lamp, and so advised the mine officials.  The company, however, had a perfect right under the law to use any power desired as long as the mine was operated with open lights.  It was made evident at the coroner's inquest, by the testimony of one of the fire bosses, that the mine was a gaseous one, but the superintendent and mine foreman did not realize the gravity of the situation.  It may be stated that the superintendent and mine foreman were new men, having been placed in charge of the mine less than two months before the explosion.  If the fire boss had performed his duty, the employees would not have been allowed to enter the mine that Sunday evening when the conditions were manifestly unsafe.

The committee of experts who made the examination for the company differed from the inspectors as to the point of ignition, but that is not a matter of great importance.  Nor is it important to know whether the explosion was the result of a blown-out shot, as claimed by the company’s committee, or of an electric spark or an open light or flame from the electric wires, as claimed by the inspectors.

The report of the company’s committee and the report of the inspectors are as follows:

Report of Committee Appointed by Company

"Pursuant to your request we examined the Naomi mine workings on December 10, to determine, if possible, the cause of the explosion that occurred December 1.

From the fact that all stoppings affected between the main tunnels were blown to the east and all loose materials along main tunnels were blown across to the east and to the south along main tunnels in direction of the pit mouth, and all loose materials on the butt entries to the west of main tunnels were blown and drifted inward to the west, we are of the opinion that the origin of the explosion was at or near the face of the main tunnels, the region of greatest force being further out.

We find there was a blown-out shot at the face of No. 2 main tunnel, the back of the hole being on the solid about six Inches.

We are of the opinion that there was some disarrangement of the ventilation permitting an accumulation of explosive gas prior to the explosion.

We are unable to determine what effect, if any, the blown-out shot at face of No. 2 main tunnel bad on the ventilation or the explosion."

Report of Mine Inspectors

"We, the following bituminous mine inspectors, who were called to the Naomi mine to assist in the recovery of the bodies of the persons lost In the disaster at said mine on the evening of December first, beg leave to Inform the inquest of our observations and conclusions as to the cause and location of the said disaster, after a thorough examination of the said mine.

The Pittsburg coal bed Is being mined here, lying at a depth beneath the surface of about 147 feet.  The coal is hoisted out of a slope at an angle of about 33⅓ per cent, and the opening used for ventilation and traveling way is a shaft partitioned off into two compartments.

We found the concrete work of the slope destroyed, but the ventilating apparatus and traveling way remained practically intact.  The mine is ventilated by a Robinson fan 20 feet in diameter and 8 feet wide, driven by steam power and usually run at about 80 revolutions a minute.  We found the stoppings of concrete and brick, used for guiding the ventilation into the interior of the mine, all blown out with few exceptions, but otherwise the mine is not much injured.

We consider this a very gaseous mine and found explosive gas in large quantities in all of the interior workings, and even after the ventilation had been restored, as at present, we found the mine generating explosive gas very freely.

We believe the mine to have been worked with open lights with but very few exceptions.  We are of the opinion that the total volume of air in circulation in the interior workings at the time of the explosion was Insufficient to keep the mine in a safe condition.  Very few of the victims of the explosion were killed as the result of the force developed by the explosion, but by the after damp when trying to make their escape.

We are of the opinion that the disaster was the result of an explosion of fire damp intensified by the coal dust of the mine.  This gas was fired either by one of the open lights used by the employees or by an electric spark or flash from an arc formed by the electric appliances in use in the mine.

There exists a difference of opinion among the inspectors only as to the real agency that fired the gas, and as to the real location at which the explosion originated.  This difference of opinion is due to the peculiar conditions now existing.  It is the opinion of the inspectors that if the gas was fired by an electric spark, the explosion occurred in the vicinity of No. 26 entry, and if an open light was the agency that fired the gas, it occurred at some other point in the mine.

The testimony given at the inquest by the engineer in the power house seems to support the opinion of the inspectors as to the cause of the explosion.  He stated that at 7:26 o'clock, P.M., the circuit breaker blew out and the explosion followed almost instantly.

The verdict of the Jury is as follows:

“We find that Joe Hagerdish, Frank Riskey and others, came to their death as the result of an explosion of gas and dust in the Naomi mine of the United Coal Company.

This gas seems to have accumulated from insufficient ventilation and was, we believe, ignited from the arching of the electric wires or an open light at some point not definitely located.

We condemn the use of electric wires on return air currents, and we further condemn the use of open lights in all gaseous mines.

We would recommend that hereafter an air shaft be opened up when the workings reach a point 4,000 feet from the mine opening.  Further, that the Mining Commission appointed by the Governor recommend such amendments to the mining laws that human life will be protected and the present laws be more rigidly enforced.
(Signed)
Arthur S. Hagan, M.D., Coroner
Harry R. Boyd
Claude H. Truxal
N. Bert Lowman
Charles Cheeseman
Wooda H. Lange
Ambrose G. Bradley
Listing of the Fatalities (official):
  • Lebo Sheman, 30, Hungarian, Loader
  • John Bezsot, 35, Hungarian, Loader
  • Frank Bouchner, Hungarian, Loader
  • John Egler, 31, German, Loader
  • John Vitovitch, 21, Russian, Driver
  • Joseph Hagerdish, 37, Austrian, Loader
  • John Rebrish, 48, Hungarian, Pumper
  • Joseph Christian, 27, American, Motorman
  • Frank Riskey, 22, German, Motorman
  • John Sprycisaski, 23, Italian, Loader
  • George Beharry, Sr., 45, Austrian, Loader
  • Paul Balchik, Sr., 43, Austrian, Loader
  • John Balchik, Sr., 20, Austrian, Loader
  • Charles Demetell, 19, Austrian, Loader
  • Antal Menshurt, 18, Austrian, Loader
  • John Kish, 33, Austrian, Loader
  • John Bado, 31, Hungarian, Loader
  • Golfred Eigler, 38, German, Loader
  • Samuel Tallinko, 25, Italian, Loader
  • John Zonda, 37, Hungarian, Loader
  • John Naud, 37, Hungarian, Loader
  • John Mura, 18, Hungarian, Loader
  • Andrew Radish, 20, Hungarian, Loader
  • Albert England, 18, American, Snapper
  • Michael Yager, 46 Austrian, Loader
  • Charles Orsoggos, 20, Austrian, Loader
  • Stephen Mohare, 25, Austrian, Loader
  • Charles Trumpert, 20, Austrian, Loader
  • Stephen Radish, 45, Hungarian, Loader
  • Joseph Vargo, 22, Hungarian, Loader
  • George Beharry, Jr., 25, Austrian, Loader
  • David Roberts, 39, Welch, Fireboss
  • Frank Nage, 30, Hungarian, Loader
  • Charles Comegaty, 31, Hungarian, Loader


Many Miners Entombed by Fire Damp Explosion in the Naomi Coal Mine
Daily Courier Connellsville, Pennsylvania
December 2, 1907

Fayette City, Dec. 2. -- In an explosion of gas in the Naomi mine of the United Coal Company two miles back of Belle Vernon at 7:30 o'clock last evening between 30 and 60 miners were entombed.  At 1 o'clock this afternoon there was only the very faintest hope that any of the entombed men could survive the fierce flames that are raging and the dense bodies of black damp that prevent rescuing parties from making any progress in the mine.

The mine went up with a roar that shook the whole countryside.  The engine house and boiler house adjoining the mouth of the slope were wrecked by the force of it.  Fire immediately followed the explosion and the workings leading from the bottom of the slope are today burning fiercely.  Many of them were timbered and heavy brattices also served to feed the flames.

Open lamps were used in the mine and the supposition is that a miner walked into a body of gas that had come by a cut through from an abandoned working and which had accumulated in such force that a fearful explosion followed.

Within a few minutes hundreds of people surrounded the pit mouth.  The screams were indescribable.  Wives and children and friends of the men entombed wrung their hands and begged piteously for rescuing parties to enter the mines and bring out their loved ones.  All night they refused to leave the pit mouth.

Today the scenes are heartrending.  Smoke rolls from the entrance to the slope in a steady volume.  Officials and mine inspectors from all over Western Pennsylvania are at the mine.  It is the opinion of all that every one of the entombed miners has perished.

The officials are not certain how many men were in the mine.  Some are sure not more than 10 men were in the pit while at the mine it is stated between 50 and 60 men were at work on the night shift.  The mine ordinarily employs between 250 and 300 men.  The body of a foreigner who was employed as a pumper is the only one recovered so far.  He was found on the slope about 700 feet from the entrance to the slope.  He had been overcome by blackdamp trying to make his escape.  A majority of the men on the night shift were employed in working a considerable distance from the pit mouth.

W. S. Kuhn, of Pittsburgh, is one of the heavy stockholders in the United Coal Company.

Deputy Coroner William Correll of Fayette County was on the scene within a few hours after the explosion and fitted up the basement of the power house as a temporary morgue for the reception of the bodies of the miners.  Doctors were hurried to the scene from Fayette City, Belle Vernon and Charleroi.

Superintendent D. J. Calligan of the street car line running from Charleroi to the mine put six cars in service soon after the accident occurred to haul men to the mine to assist in the rescue work.

Superintendent Henersdon was the first man to enter the mine after the explosion.  He only penetrated the mine for about 100 yards when he was overcome by gas and was rescued by companions with difficulty.  He was taken out and soon revived in the open air.  He then directed his attention to the rescue work.

The Naomi mine is a slope mine and one of the oldest operated by the United Coal Company which has its principal offices in Pittsburg.  It is one of the biggest mines in the soft coal region and gave work to from 200 to 300 men all the year round.  The property loss will be enormous as the mine was equipped at a cost of thousands of dollars with all the up to date mine appurtenances such as electric lights, electric coal cars and air ventilating systems.

The explosion completely wrecked the air system, and that in itself means that no human being can live very long in the mine as it is now.

What seems an almost insurmountable mountain of debris is between the struggling workmen and the imprisoned men.  Some rescuers are trying to tunnel this while strenuous efforts to reach the imprisoned men by other means are being made.

Five rescuing parties were quickly formed last night but they were able to accomplish but little.  They worked alternately but the farthest they were able to get into the mine was 800 yards.  They were gradually working their way inch by inch.  Each party could only stay in the mine a few minutes.  This necessarily makes the work of rescue slow.

The rescue parties are working under the direction of Deputy State Mine Inspector Henry Loutlit, John McVickers, superintendent from the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal & Coke Company and Thomas White pit boss.

Mine Inspector Loutlit says:
"It is impossible to say just what caused the explosion.  The mine was remarkably free of gas but you can never tell about such things.  Gas is likely to be found in the most unexpected places.  The force of the explosion was terrific and I cannot think that any man in the Naomi mine escaped with his life."

"The mine was practically shattered and I believe we will eventually find thousands of tons of earth blocking the way to the entombed miners.  We have been unable to get into the mine to any great distance.  700 yards has been about the limit."
The Naomi mine was considered one of the safest in this section.  For more than three months the company has been making improvements and had just completed the installation of 250 tons of modern machinery.

At 1:30 o'clock this afternoon, it is known that 46 men are entombed.  Rescuers are working but there is little hope of success in rescuing any of the men alive.

Listing of the Fatalities (unofficial):

Nenthart Antal, 19
Janos "John" Bado
John Balchik, Jr.
Charles Bemeter
John Bezsot
George Bihari, Jr.
Frank Bouchner
George Christian, 25
Charles Comegaty
Charles Demetell
John Egler
Golfred Egler
Albert England
John England
Joseph Hagerdish, 25
John Kish, 25
Antal Menzhurt, 25
Stephen Mohare, 25
John Mura, 25
Frank Nage, 25
Charles Orsoggos
Andrew Radish
Stephen Radish
John Rebish
Frank Riskey
David Roberts, Fire Boss
John Robey, Pumper
Lebo Sherman
John Sprycisaski
Samuel Tallinko
Charles Trumpert
Joseph Vargo
John Vitavitch
Michael Yager
John Zonda



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