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

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

Harlan Fuel Company
Zero Mine Explosion

Yancey, Harlan County, Kentucky
December 9, 1932
No. Killed - 23

USBM Final Investigation Report  (3.5 Mb)  PDF Format
Description:  A coal dust explosion occurred and resulted in the death of 23 men.  Eight men died of carbon monoxide, while others were severely burned.  The explosion originated in a crosscut between rooms 5 and 6, 1st left off 2 south.  Two holes were fired in the crosscut, both of which blew through as holes were drilled on the solid and within 14 inches of being drilled through.  Both were windy shots; but the second ignited coal dust, which propagated an explosion over almost one-third of the mine before forces died away.

From the Google News Archives:  External Link
(news links open in a separate window)

23 are Dead in Explosion of Zero Mine
Middlesboro Daily News, Kentucky
December 10, 1932

Yancy, Ky. -- The last four of 23 bodies of miners trapped by an explosion in Zero Mine of the Harlan Fuel Company here yesterday were brought out by rescue crews at 7 a. m. today.

The deceased:
  • Henry Massengill
  • Calvin Massengill
  • Garrett Massengill
  • Esaw Massengill
  • Campbell M. Massengill
  • George Hendricks
  • Herman Eddie
  • Charles Davenport
  • Henry Hibbard
  • O. A. Romine
  • Arthur L. Woods
  • Harold Woods
  • Will Reynolds
  • Eugene Woods
  • Ben Fields
  • Harrison Jackson
  • Jim Davis
  • Mace Turnbough
  • Alfred Graves
  • Will Newell
  • Robert Benbo
  • Luther Jones
The Massengill brothers are sons of James Nelson Massengill, of Claiborne county, Tenn.  Their bodies were to be shipped to Tazewell for burial.

Four rescue teams worked feverishly throughout the night in an effort to reach the last of the victims trapped by the blast a mile and a half from the opening of the mine high up the side of Black Mountain.

Mine officials said they could not as yet determine either the cause of the blast or the cause of death in some cases.  It was generally believed that the tragedy resulted from a dust explosion since Harlan county coal mines are singularly free from gas.

"Blackdamp" or gas which followed the explosion, however, was believed to have been the cause of death in many cases.

Among the victims of the explosion are the six sons of J. M. Massengill.  The six are married and between them there are five children.

The casualty list contains 12 negroes and 11 white men, it was said.

Miles Underground

The explosion occurred about 11 o'clock yesterday morning, at a point over a mile back of the entry to the mine.

Charles Guthrie, superintendent of the mine, was seated near the entry when he noticed that leaves were blowing away from it instead of into it.  Since the ventilation system of the mine is constantly pumping air into the passage, he sensed that something had happened and rushed into another entry parallel to the one in which the explosion occurred and sounded the warning to the miners working there.

Almost immediately after the explosion became known rescue teams, under the direction of J. F. Bryson, safety director of the Harlan County Coal Operators association, started into the entry.  All during the day they worked in shifts, trying to penetrate to the point where the explosion occurred.  The finding of the bodies, at 7:30 last night made it apparent that this point almost had been reached.

Later in the night it was reported that other bodies had been sighted in the passage, but the rescue crews were not close enough to tell how many there were.

Assisting Bryson in the rescue work were J. F. Davies, U. S. Bureau of Mines engineer, R. H. Gonia, district mine inspectior and rescue teams from the Harlan-Wallins Coal Corp., at Verda; King-Harlan Co., Kildav; Bowling Coal Mining Co., Bardo; Mahan-Ellis Co., Stanfill and Greech Coal Co.,. Wallins.

Caused By Dust

The explosion apparently was caused by dust filling the passageway.  Mining engineers explained that this is the worst time of the year for such a hazard, since the dry atmosphere increases the possibility of the dust filling the passage, where the slightest spark will set it off with the force of dynamite.  Another hazard in this instance was that the Zero mine is one of the oldest in this section, with the entries running well over a mile baack into the mountain side, thus making it hard to force air back into them.

A crowd of more than 200 mostly relatives of those trapped inside stood at the entry last night.  There was no commotion, no excitement.  Now and then a muffled sob could be heard as the grief of some one of those watching the last glow of hope slowly fading would break through to the surface.

Harlan county has seen mine disasters before, but this is the worst.  And the wives, mothers and sweethearts of the men who work in the mines know the dangers they face very day.  So, when the fatal blast comes there is no hysteria, only a deep, silent grief over the whole community.

Rescue parties still were at work at midnight and it was expected momentarily that other bodies would be brought to the mine entrance.

See more about these products