Mine Safety Training Repository
united states mine rescue association
Mine Disasters in the United States

Tank's Poetry

Father Time
See more disasters
from this year
Calendar Image
Mine Disaster Calendar

Inland Steel Company
Sherwood Mine Asphyxiations

Iron River, Iron County, Michigan
June 1, 1959
No. Killed - 6

USBM Final Investigation Report  (2.1 Mb)  PDF Format

An inrush of hot gases and steam at the Sherwood mine, Inland Steel Company, Iron River, Iron County, Michigan at 9:05 a.m., June 1, 1959 caused the deaths of six men.  Four men were killed instantly, a fifth man died that evening, and a sixth man died five days later, all from extensive second and third degree burns and inhalation of hot gases.  Six additional men were hospitalized with severe burns, and 28 other men, underground at the time, escaped injury.  Except for one conflicting statement, all of the men underground at the time reported no evidence of sulfur dioxide gas in the rush of hot gases that entered the underground workings.

Of the four men who were killed instantly, three men were installing a tugger in the main drift near the intersection of the west and southeast drifts.  The fourth man, the "powder man" was working in a small crosscut off the main drift containing the explosives- and detonator-storage magazines.  A fifth man who died in the hospital that same day had been working in No. 1404 stope below the 1200 level and suffered burns after he ran up the incline to the shaft.  He was found on the floor of the cage by the first man to escape.

The sixth man who died 5 days after the accident had been cleaning the pan line in the incline near the 1300 level with another man.  The seriously burned man was found near the southwest corner of the shaft.

Official List of the Casualties:

  • Anderson, Carl R., 40
  • Groop, Howard, 31
  • Johnson, Einar, 59
  • Shaver, Talcott, 22
  • Wester, Ingvar, 51
  • Zucal, August, 50
  • Johnson, Jack
  • Peterson, Winfred
  • Sleeman,Keith
  • Tessaro, Attillo, 52

Mineral Hills Mourns Five Killed in Blast
The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan
June 2, 1959

Iron River, Mich., June 2 (AP) -- Sorrow burdened this Northern Michigan mining community today in the wake of yesterday's underground "belching hell" disaster that killed five men.

But thanks was also given than the tragedy was no worse.

Survivors' accounts of the peril deep within Inland Steel Company's Sherwood iron mine in nearby Mineral Hills indicated that but for warnings, including the tell-tale odor of gas, the death toll might have been far greater.

The mine was closed today pending further investigation, although all gas was reported cleared.

The five who died were trapped by sulfurous gas and flames that shot out from the collapse of a walled-up slope.

Seven others were injured while 25, crawling in pitch-black darkness up a 225-foot incline 1,200 feet below the surface, escaped without injury.

Howard Groop, 30, Crystal Falls, whose father, Everett, escaped, died in a hospital at nearby Stambaugh last night.  Gas fumes had seared his lungs.

The other victims, all veterans of the iron ore mines, were:
  • Ingvar Wester, about 48, Iron Ridge
  • August Zuckal, 51, Caspian
  • Elnar Johnson, 59, Crystal Falls
  • Carl Anderson, 40, Iron River
All were residents of the cluster of mining towns in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where no disaster of this magnitude had been known in years.

Yesterday's blast came on the seventh anniversary of a 1952 tragedy in which three men were killed.  That blast was in another mine in the same tiny town.

Keith Sleeman, who escaped the full force of yesterday's blast by dodging into a passageway, described it as "belching hell."  He cut a niche in a wall in which he hid his face from hot gas.

Others gave similar stories from their hospital beds.

"All hell came by," said Winfred Peterson, 38, father of three children.  The blast shot streams of debris and water through mine corridors.

A moment before, hearing a "roaring," Peterson had put his gloved hands before his eyes.  He suffered facial and hand burns.

A shift boss, Jack Johnson, was credited with having warned his men that a cave-in of the slope threatened.

Attilo Tessaro, 52, Crystal Falls, ran toward the main shaft; fleeing the heat of the spreading gas.

"I felt it was getting hotter and hotter," Tessaro said.  "Then I lay down with my jacket covering my face."  The heat and the gas cloud enveloped him.  "If it had lasted a couple more minutes, I wouldn't have lasted," Tessaro said.

The mine management said the blast was caused by the collapse of a supporting pillar in the slope.  The slope had been mined out several years and then walled off when inflammable sulfurous slate was found.

See more about these products