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Hanna Coal Company
Willow Grove No. 10 Mine Explosion

Neffs, Belmont County, Ohio
March 16, 1940
No. Killed - 72

USBM Final Investigation Report  (7.4 Mb)  PDF Format
Historic Mine Marker
Erected by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Side 1      Side 2
Willow Grove Mine Marker - Front
Willow Grove Mine Marker - Rear
Location. 40° 0.984′ N, 80° 44.538′ W.
Marker is in Bellaire, Ohio, in Belmont County.  Marker is at the intersection of Belmont Street and 34th Street, on the right when traveling south on Belmont Street, located in Union Park.  Marker is in this post office area: Bellaire OH 43906
Photographed by Mike Wintermantel
Source: Historic Marker Database

Rescuer Deaths

On this Saturday morning 176 men were in the mine, when an explosion killed 66 by burns and violence and 3 by burns and afterdamp.  Two others attempting rescue were asphyxiated, and 1 rescued man died 6 days later from effects of afterdamp.

Successful Rescue

An explosion in this mine resulted in the death of 72 miners.  Twenty-two others were overcome by afterdamp, rescued and taken to the surface.  Seventy-nine uninjured men were temporarily imprisoned and rescued five hours later.  Investigators believe that the explosion was caused by the firing of a shot charged with black powder.

On this Saturday morning 176 men were in the mine, when an explosion killed 66 by burns and violence and 3 by burns and afterdamp.  Two others attempting rescue were asphyxiated, and 1 rescued man died 6 days later from effects of afterdamp.  One man was severely burned and injured by the explosion, and two recovery workers were injured by a rock fall.

Twenty-two men overcome by afterdamp were rescued and revived, and 79 men trapped for 5 hours were released uninjured; 2 others escaped unaided.  The explosion traversed the 22 south section and a short distance inby and outby 22 south on the main west haulage entries.

A telephone call to the surface from the dispatcher in the mine about 11:10 a.m. reported that smoke and fumes were coming down the main west and driving men from the underground shops and that they could not go through it to the airshaft to see if a motor or transformer was burning.

The assistant superintendent and the mining engineer drove to the airshaft and went down in intake air as the fan was blowing, noting only a burned smell in the air.  They encountered burning fragments on the main west, stamped them out, and then found a badly burned man, who had staggered out from the explosion area.  Other men from outside the affected section were found and helped to take the injured man outside.  Help was called from available outside sources.

A motorman leaving 19 north and south junction with a loaded trip about 11:10 a.m. was enveloped in a cloud of dust and smoke; he put the controller on full and lost consciousness on the way out.  At the outside loop the trolley pole flew off, and the trip coasted back into the mine about 900 feet.  He was found by the superintendent and the outside foreman, who had gone in the pit mouth with two other men to investigate.  The two outside men brought the motorman and trip out and revived him.

The officialsremained at a telephone at this point and talked to men at the dispatcher's shanty, who were being rapidly overcome.  Some men from the shop and others gathered at the shanty hurried out and made it safely; those remaining, including the two officials, were killed by the onsweeping smoke and fumes that reached the pit mouth and prevented entrance about 12 noon.  The two officials attempted to get out but fell less than 100 feet from the outside.  At 12:30 p.m. the air had cleared and their bodies were recovered.  Efforts to revive them failed.

Gas-mask and working crews were organized and started an exploration and carrying ventilation into the explosion area.  Men in unaffected parts of the mine were located and sent out.  Many were unaware of any trouble.  A group of 23 men was found overcome by afterdamp and removed.  After fresh air was put onto the haulage roads, loading machines were used to clean up falls, continuing until March 28, when the last body was recovered.  Apparatus crews were present, but no work was done under apparatus.

The explosion did not extend farther because of considerable expansion at 22 south and main west and because of the incombustible content of road dust in the main west headings.

A shot of pellet black powder in the left rib near the face of 8 west was fired in starting a room neck.  An excessive amount of powder was used, and "bugdust" stemming as well as coal dust stirred up by this and preceding rock shot were ignited by the flame.  Gas at the face of 7 west, black powder in a storage box on 24 south between 7 and 8 west, and coal dust in all the workings added to the explosion.  Rock dust had been applied only on the main west haulageway.  No water was used to allay coal dust.

The mine was classed as nongassy, and no firebosses were employed, although section foremen had flame safety lamps.  The company had a commendable safety record and an active safety program, but the latent explosion hazards were not recognized.

Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume I

50 Men Trapped in a Mine at Bellaire
The Coshocton Tribune, Ohio
March 17, 1940

Bellaire, O., -- Fifty miners were entombed tonight in the Willow Grove coal mine -- recognized as one of the country's model bituminous mines --where a terrific gas explosion caught 180 men, killing at least three and injuring scores.

The fate of those still trapped in a chamber known as "Twenty-Two South," three miles from the mine entrance, was uncertain nine hours after the explosion.  Officials of the Hanna Coal Company had not given up hope that some would be taken out alive, but members of the rescue crew said that it would be a miracle if any survived.

At least 91 had been helped out of the mine by rescue workers.  Many were burned and bruised and most of them suffered from the effects of the poison gases that filled the tunnels after the explosion, shortly before noon.

Other miners had been able to leave thru emergency exists without assistance.  Many went home and an accurate count was impossible.

R. L. Ireland, Jr., of Cleveland, president of the mining firm, hastened from St. Clairsville to aid in rescue work.  He said the rescue crews, equipped with gas masks and working as rapidly as the dangerous conditions for in the mine would permit, were digging for those still trapped.

The miners straggled out by ones and twos.  They were dazed and the more seriously affected were hurried to hospitals in Martins Ferry and Bellaire.  Some had to be carried out on stretchers.

Tells of Conditions

Steve Burke, 29, of Maynard, was one of the first men to walk from the mine.  He described the conditions caused by the blast as "terrible."

"I don't see how anybody who was working in the vicinity of the explosion could have lived," Burke said.

Fourteen men were being treated in Bellaire hospital and three in Martins Ferry hospital.  Another 33 were taken to the Martins Ferry hospital in ambulances.

The Willow Grove mine was noted for its safety standards and ideal working conditions.  Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt had inspected and praised it in 1935.  Mine officials believed that the safety factors had prevented greater loss of life.

"Not Much Hope"

Deputy Sheriff Ralph Harrison of Belmont county, describing the rescue of the miners, said that "some of them were pretty much gassed."

"There's not much hope for the remaining ones," Harrison said as he returned from the mine.

Other reports stated, however, that officials of the Hanna Coal Company, which operates the largest bituminous mine in eastern Ohio, had talked to some of the trapped men over a mine telephone.  These officials thought they would be rescued.

The known dead were Mine Superintendent John Richards, Howard Sanders, outside tipple foreman, and Ralph Sutton, 35, of St. Clairsville.

A runaway coal train gave the first indication of the explosion.  Obviously out of control of the motorman, Steve Olexis of Dun Glen, the train shot out of the mouth of the mine.

Listing of Fatalities in the Willow Grove Mine Explosion
St. Clairsville Gazette, Ohio
March 22, 1940

  1. John H. Richards, 44
  2. Howard Sanders, 52
  3. Charles L. Carroll, 50
  4. Joseph Roque, 45
  5. Louis Roque, 42
  6. Robert Bakosh, 32
  7. Cecil W. Grimes, 30
  8. Edwin Patterson, 34
  9. Cornelius Jobes, 25
  10. Mike Serdula, 62
  11. Mark Passmore, 52
  12. George Fulton, 29
  13. Wayne Hynes, 29
  14. Joe Hess, 43
  15. Andy Sklenicka, 26
  16. Andy Hobart, 41
  17. John Garlega, 37
  18. Walter France, 50
  19. James Warfield, 58
  20. Ross McFadden, 54
  21. Elmer Clark, 46
  22. William Gardner, 58
  23. Stanley Wasielewski, 52
  24. Lawrence Hrabak, 46
  25. Harry Klee, 38
  26. Frank Dopkiss, 36
  27. Ed Zaleski, 26
  28. John Celuch, 46
  29. Steve Petran, 54
  30. Clarence Wiggins, 35
  31. Walter Slater, 29
  32. George Bringmann, 24
  33. Mike August, 40
  34. Emilio Dalpiaz, 47
  35. Charles Lupi, 42
  36. Joseph Dalpiaz, 38
  1. Constantino Daroma, 53
  2. Paul Kulevich, Jr., 27
  3. John Miketo, 45
  4. Andy Rudol, 34
  5. John Mardk, 33
  6. Andy Valocik, 31
  7. Andrew Garek, 53
  8. John McFetridge, 37
  9. Earl Pack, 30
  10. Mitchell Jones, 44
  11. Russell Fendon, 37
  12. Joe Prosek, 30
  13. Emmet Krotky, 38
  14. John Demkowics, 37
  15. Joe Riddle, 52
  16. Pete Rinkes, 36
  17. Joseph W. Kresach, 45
  18. Cap Benson, 50
  19. Rudolph Vrba, 47
  20. Ralph Sutton, 40
  21. Garrett Kelley, 38
  22. Ray Davis, 50
  23. David Chini, 27
  24. John B. Knapski, 38
  25. William Shiller, 38
  26. John Sklenicka, 24
  27. John Demopolos, 54
  28. Albert Kanopsic, 33
  29. Charles Bobka, 47
  30. Frank Pasco, 49
  31. Martin Bobka, 28
  32. Albert Eastham, 36
  33. Mike Pokerino, 30
  34. Paul Kasarda, 46
  35. Phillip Paytash, 30

Note: The official number killed was 72.

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