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Mine Disasters in the United States


Smokeless Coal Company
Smokeless Valley No. 1 Mine Explosion

Johnstown, Cambria County, Pennsylvania
May 24, 1915
No. Killed - 9



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Rescuer Death

On May 25, 1915, Gomer Phillips, an instructor in charge of first aid and mine rescue for the Cambria Steel Company, lost his life 400 feet beyond the fresh-air base while on an exploration trip after an explosion in the No. 1 mine of the Smokeless Coal Company, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in which eight persons were killed.

A crew consisting of Phillips and three other mine rescue men of the same company, wearing Fleuss oxygen breathing apparatus, left the fresh-air base to make a contemplated exploration trip of about 1,400 feet.  After advancing about 500 feet, Phillips complained that he did not feel well but was persuaded by a member of the crew to continue on the exploration.  After traveling some distance, Phillips suddenly turned, broke away from the crew, and started running toward the fresh-air base.

He ran about 30 feet and fell forward on his face.  The other three men of the crew followed him, picked him up, and carried him about 60 feet, but stopped because of exhaustion, and two of them fell down.  The remaining crew member succeeded in reaching the fresh-air base and reported that the other three men were down.

Two other men, without apparatus, attempted to reach Phillips and the other two members of the rescue crew, but this effort failed.  Canvas brattices were then erected in the crosscuts, and fresh air was directed toward the point where the men had collapsed.

One of the men was met crawling toward the fresh-air base on his hands and knees.  Phillips and his companion were found where they had fallen.  They were carried or dragged back to the fresh-air base, a distance of about 350 feet.  On reaching the fresh-air base artificial respiration was applied, and Phillips' companion was revived in about one-half hour.  However, continued artificial respiration and the use of a pulmotor for over an hour failed to revive Phillips.

Careful examination of the equipment worn by these men failed to reveal any defects.


Source: Loss of Life Among Wearers of Oxygen Breathing Apparatus (April 1944) PDF Format


Horrible Disaster at Johnstown
Indiana Evening Gazette, Pennsylvania
May 25, 1915

Johnstown, Pa. -- Eight men were killed and six others were overcome in an effort to reach the bodies, in the worst mining accident in years at Mine No. 1 of the Smokeless Coal Company at Johnstown, Monday afternoon. The disaster occurred at 3:30 o'clock when a terrific explosion blew out the brattices, stopped the fans and drove a cloud of gases out through the mine entrance.

The men who were in the mine at the time and who are dead were:
  • Edward Evans
  • David Evans (son of Edward Evans)
  • James Evans (son of Edward Evans)
  • Charles F. May
  • Charles E. Steplin
  • Valentine Cheshael
  • John Hoffman
  • Jacob Wolf
Immediately after the accident Charles Schiffenhauser, the way boss, rushed to the fan house and within five minutes had started the fans again. His work did not clear the mine, however, owing to the destruction of the brattices.

It is believed the explosion was due to gas. Weigh boss Schiffhauser stated that the explosion was so terrific that if any vehicle had been passing on the street at the time it would have been blown to atoms.

Wives and mothers of the men in the mine heard the explosion and came running to the mine mouth, where they were restrained with difficulty from entering the slope. Some of them became hysterical and their screams added to the horror of the scene, as the rescuers struggled in and out of the black afterdamp that rolled from the mine mouth.

The explosion occurred in the right heading of Slope No. 2, Mine No. 1, of the Valley Smokeless Coal Co.

Last evening the efforts of the rescuers were directed chiefly to saving their own comrades, who were overcome by the gases. Superintendent C. H. Crocker, of the Cambria mines, was one of the victims. He was brought to the surface by General Superintendent H. J. Meehan and Frank Boyd, who volunteered to enter the mine without helmets.

Gomer Phillips and Thomas Burgess were still in the mine last evening and were said to be in a serious condition. Phillips died later in the evening. John Broderick, John Frear, and W. M. Dyer, all members of the rescue party, were taken to the Cambria Hospital, where their condition rapidly improved and it is believed that they could be sent to their homes before morning.



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