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Freeman Coal Mining Corporation
Orient No. 5 Raw-Coal Tunnel Explosion

Benton, Franklin County, Illinois
August 15, 1968
No. Killed - 4

USBM Final Investigation Report  (810 Kb)  PDF Format

See also: New Orient No. 2 Mine Explosion, Jan. 29, 1926
Orient Hoisting Accident, Sept. 17, 1926
Orient No. 2 Mine Explosion, Dec. 21, 1951
Orient No. 6 Roof Fall, Jul. 9, 1986

Around 10 a.m., Thursday, August 15, 1968, Earl Willis, Superintendent, instructed one of his foremen to send a man and cutting torch equipment to a job for Charles Collins on the vibrating screens in the unit train tunnel.  James Nealon was assigned to this job.

Mr. Willis then proceeded on to other duties and met Mr. Walker.  Willis, knowing of Asher Walker's excellent abilities with a cutting torch instructed him to go to the tunnel and replace Mr. Nealon.  Nealon was to come to the job Walker was doing which Willis was to perform until Nealon arrived.

Mr. Willis was approximately 200 feet from the tunnel when he heard the noise report of the explosion.  He turned and looked and saw a ball of fire come from the mouth of the tunnel extending for approximately 150 to 200 feet up the conveyor belt toward the Unit train loading towers.  This flame was an instant flame and extinguished immediately.

He ran towards the mouth of the tunnel and observed smoke and some foggy condition.  The visibility down the tunnel was very poor.  Mr. Willis then ran to the office to the first aid room to get gas masks.  Returning immediately to the tunnel, he saw Robert Boyett stagger out of the smoke and could hear another person asking for help.  Mr. Willis and Mr. Dotson, plant foreman, went into the tunnel with masks on.  About half way down the steps they found a man and carried him to the surface.  This person was David Walker.

When returning to the surface, other personnel were putting on masks and continued rescue work until Mr. Collins had been removed from the tunnel.  Mr. Nealon had been blown from the tunnel and found approximately 15 feet from the mouth of the tunnel.

The following is a list of the victims of the explosion:
  • James Nealon, age 45, Surface Mechanic, Orient #5, no dependents.
  • Robert Boyett, age 55, Ass't. Preparation Engineer, Freeman Coal Corp., one dependent, wife of West Frankfort, Illinois. He died August 24, 1968.
  • Charles H. Collins, age 49, Service Engineer., Gen. Kinematics Corp., Barrington, two dependents, wife and son (age 17) of Crystal Lake, Illinois.
  • David Asher Walker, age 45, Welder, Orient #5, one dependent, wife of Royalton, Illinois.
James Nealon and Charles Collins apparently were killed instantly. David Asher Walker died a couple of hours later in Franklin Hospital, Benton, Illinois.  Robert Boyett died 9 days later in Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri as a result of injuries received from this explosion.

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