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The Scotia Widows: Inside Their Lawsuit Against Big Daddy Coal

Scotia Coal Company
Scotia Mine Explosions

Oven Fork, Letcher County, Kentucky
March 9, 1976
No. Killed - 15
  March 11, 1976
No. Killed - 11

Related Links:
Accident Description
List of Deceased Miners
The Ballad of the Shadow Miner
Written by E. B. "Reb" Allen 1976
Remembering Scotia by Bob Cornett  PDF Format

15 Die in Mine Blast
Middlesboro Daily News, Kentucky
March 10, 1976

Partridge, Ky. (UPI) -- The bodies of 15 miners trapped five and a half miles underground when an explosion ripped through a mine near this eastern Kentucky village were found early today.  The mine had previously been cited for having high concentrations of methane gas.

Nine were killed in the explosion and six apparently suffocated later from a mixture of heavy smoke and methane gas, said Kentucky Department of Mines and Mineral Resources Commissioner Harold Kirkpatrick.

The explosion occurred Tuesday at the Scotia Coal Company mine, a subsidiary of Blue Diamond Coal Company, Knoxville, Tenn., near the Virginia border and about 40 miles from Hyden, Ky., where a methane gas explosion killed 38 miners five years ago.

Kirkpatrick said six of the miners apparently were not killed instantly.

"Nine of them were found in different spots and there were six who evidently were not killed instantly," said Kirkpatrick.  "They were able to partially barricade themselves."

All underground mines are equipped with heavy tarpaulin called brattice cloth for use in an explosion to form an air pocket which the six men apparently attempted to do.

The Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration said in Washington late Tuesday that the explosion had been caused by a pocket of methane gas.

The administration had previously cited the Scotia Coal Company for methane levels of 5 to 15 per cent.  A methane level of more than 5 per cent is considered dangerous, the administration said.

Kirkpatrick said an investigation would be launched today to determine the exact cause of the explosion.

One miner, who asked his name not be used because it could jeopardize his job, said the explosion occurred in a section of the mine that a federal inspector had ruled unsafe because of the high level of gas only the day before.

Jasper Cornetit of Knoxville, Tenn., vice president of operations for the Blue Diamond Co., denied allegations that the mine had a reputation of being unsafe.

"I feel those allegations are incorrect," he said.

"But it's true the mine does liberate gas."

The victims all lived in the surrounding Letcher County-Harlan County area except for Dennis Boggs, 25, of Pound, Va.

The victims were identified as:
  • Virgil Coots, 23
  • Tom Scott, 23
  • Earl Galloway, 43
  • Robert Griffith, 24
  • Willie Turner, 32
  • Kenneth Turner, 25
  • Gail Sparkman, 30
  • Larry McKnight, 27
  • Roy McKnight, 30
  • Lawrence Peavy, 25
  • Denver Widener, 31
  • David Gibbs, 29
  • Scottie Combs, 28
  • Jimmy Sturgill, 20
For the people in this rugged, mountainous region of Appalachia, hardship and tragedy are not strangers.

"It's almost like Hyden reborn," said Oscar Combs, publisher of the Tri-City news, a weekly newspaper published in nearby Cumberland.  "Even the weather is the same -- the same damp grey type weather you would order for this type of incident."

"Is my boy in there," Edward Nantz, tears streaming down his face, asked an official at the mine he retired from a year ago because of a heart condition.

His son, Scottie Combs, 28, and son-in-law, Larry McKnight, 28, both of Blair, were among the victims.

H. R. Stallard, secretary of Blue Diamond Coal Company said the mine employs about 500 persons and was opened in 1962.  It produces 2,500 tons of coal a day.

The employees are not members of the United Mine Workers union but are represented by a company union.

The worst mining disaster in Kentucky occurred Aug. 4, 1917 when 62 miners died in a Western Kentucky Coal Company mine in Clay, Ky.

Second Scotia Blast Traps 11 Mine Inspectors
Middlesboro Daily News, Kentucky
March 12, 1976

Partridge, Ky. (UPI) -- Eleven men, including three federal inspectors, with only an hour's supply of oxygen, were trapped Thursday night in an explosion at a coal mine where a methane gas explosion killed 15 miners two days earlier.

Two other inspectors who escaped said the men were still alive shortly after the 11:30 p.m. EST explosion in the Scotia Coal Company mine near this eastern Kentucky community.

The explosion Tuesday occurred at 12:30 p.m.

Herschel Potter, chief of the safety division of the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration, said the 11 trapped men were equipped with respirators but he said the equipment was only good for one hour.

Hank Lindsay, an aide to Kentucky Gov. Julian Carroll who is at the scene, said rescue teams which formed at the mine office said the "clicked a telephone connection to the men six times and they believed they heard six answering clicks."

Lindsay said a giant borer was brought to the mine to dig a hole through the top of a shaft in an attempt to get rescue teams to the trapped miners quicker than going in through the mine entrance.

"Immediately after the explosion a small group of miners attempted to get to the trapped men through the main shaft and got a mile into the mine before they were forced back because of intense heat," Lindsay said.

Relatives of the trapped miners gathered at the entrance.

Potter said the men were in the mine in an attempt to determine what triggered an explosion Tuesday that killed 15 men.

The Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration said earlier that the mine had been cited for dangerous concentrations of methane gas.

The explosion Thursday night was near the area of the Tuesday explosion, officials said.

The explosion Tuesday occurred 5 miles underground and it took about 14 hours for rescue crews to dig their way through to the miners.

Potter said the mine had been closed since Tuesday's explosion and acknowledged the chances of a secondary explosion were part of the risk taken by teams investigating the cause of the blast.

"This is always one of the hazards," Potter said.  "It's something we live with."

Crews of federal mine inspectors Thursday were able to make some surveys of the mine and indicated the ventilation system was apparently not working which led to the buildup of methane gas Tuesday.

MESA Administrator Robert Barrett said the night before Tuesday's explosion, inspectors checked the mine and cited the firm for not having the required amount of air in the area where the explosion occurred.

Joe Cook, a deputy administrator for MESA, said Thursday that since a 1969 federal mine-safety law went into effect, federal inspectors had gone into the Scotia mine a total of 530 times for various inspections.

The Scotia Mine is a subsidiary of Blue Diamond Coal Company of Knoxville, Tenn., and its employees are represented by a company union and are not members of the United Mine Workers Union.

The company has denied that the mine is unsafe.

Officials May Seal Mine Where 26 Died
Middlesboro Daily News, Kentucky
March 13, 1976

Partridge, Ky. (UPI) -- Federal and state mining officials faced the grim decision today of whether to seal a southeastern Kentucky coal mine, entombing 11 men killed in a methane gas explosion or risk more deaths by attempting to recover the bodies.

The 11 men, who had gone deep into the Scotia Coal Company mine to investigate the cause of an explosion in the same mine which killed 15 miners Tuesday, were found dead Friday.  Three of the victims were federal mine inspectors.

The explosions Tuesday and again Thursday night occurred 59 hours apart in the same general area.

The 26 deaths made the mine disaster one of the worst in the state's history.

At least six of the miners killed Tuesday were to be buried today.

Friday's dead included one miner who had been working underground Tuesday, escaped from that blast and then volunteered to go back into the shaft Thursday night to help find the cause of the first explosion.

Two other mine inspectors survived the latest explosion, stumbling 5,000 feet through the tunnels to safety early Friday.

Mining officials closed the mine and H. N. Kirkpartick, state commissioner of mines and minerals, said the bodies of the 11 men were left in the mine because of the fear of more explosions.

"We decided that methane gas levels were high in there and the thing could blow again," Kirkpatrick said.  "We didn't want any other deaths."

Relatives and friends of the dead men waited in a cold drizzle for 13 hours Friday only to learn there were no survivors.

"This can't be true," screamed one young woman.  Another woman, visibly shaken, had to be supported by members of her family.

Ralph Die, a vice president of Blue Diamond Co., Knoxville, Tenn., the parent company of the Scotia Coal Company, said a high concentration of methane gas was believed to have caused Thursday night's explosion.

The miner victims were identified as:
  • John Hackworth, 29, Cumberland, Ky.
  • Monroe Sturgill, 40, Whitesburg, Ky.
  • James Sturgill, 48, Eolia, Ky.
  • Glenn Barker, 29, Partridge, Ky.
  • James O. Williams, 23, Hindman, Ky.
  • Don Creech, SR., 30, Cumberland, Ky.
  • J. B. Holbrook, 43, Millstone, Ky.
  • Don Polly, 46, Mayking, Ky.
The federal inspectors were identified as:
  • Richard Sammons, 55, Auxier, Ky.
  • Kenneth Kiser, 45, Wise, Va.
  • Grover Tussey, 45, Allen, Ky.
Authorities said Hackworth had worked in the mine Tuesday and had volunteered to return underground Thursday night to help investigators pinpoint the cause of the first explosion.

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