Wheatcroft, KY Coal Mine Explosion And Fire, Sep 1989


Madisonville, Ky. (AP) -- Autopsies on nine of 10 miners killed in an underground methane gas explosion indicated they
"lived minutes at the maximum, probably more like seconds," the medical examiner said Thursday.
"The inhalation of superheated gases and inhalation of carbon monoxide in high concentrations is rapidly fatal," Dr. George Nichols said at a news conference.
He said nine died of smoke inhalation and another, who survived for a brief period at Union County Methodist Hospital, died from carbon monoxide inhalation in the nation's worst coal mine disaster since 1984.
The explosion occurred Wednesdy morning about 1,000 feet underground in the Pyro Mining Co.'s William Station Mine at Wheatcroft, a rural area about 35 miles northwest of here.
A federal investigating team headed to the mine Thursday.
"We want to find out what happened so we can take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Frank O'Gorman, a public information specialist with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in Arlington, Va. The formal investigation probably will not begin until today, he said.
Nichols said there was no evidence of any disabiling injuries to anyone else at the mine, which employes 367 workers on three shifts.
"That indicates to me that the explosion caused a vast amount of carbon monoxide to be formed but not a huge concussive type of explosion," he said.
The medical examiner said there was evidence that one of the miners had removed a self-rescuer mask from his pack, but that it hadn't been applied to his mouth or nose. Miners carry the devices on their belts to filter out poisonous carbon monoxide in emergencies.
Nichols said that use of the self-rescuer in saving the lives would depend on the concentration of carbon monoxide in the mine.
One miner, who refused to identify himself, said several of his co-workers had expected and explosion in the mine.
"We all had the same thought on our minds," he said at the Miner's Diner in Wheatcroft. "Somebody is going to drop the ball. We're just thankful -- it's horrible, it's awful -- that it was just 10 men."
The miner said he and other miners thought that when an explosion occurred, "it was going to be all of Williams Station." He said methane gas buildup is inevitable, no matter how much ventilation is used.
Charles Schulties, president of Pyro's parent company, Costain Coal Inc., said something may have caused a buildup of methane, an explosive gas that occurs naturally in coal seams and that mine operators are required to ventilate.
He acknowledged that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine about two months ago for high levels of methane.
Ed Calman, a Pyro spokesman, said the company would have no comment until the investigation is completed. The investigation is expected to take several weeks.
The mine entrance remained closed and under guard Thursday morning.
The accident claimed the highest death toll since 27 miners died in a Utah coal mine on Dec. 19, 1984, O'Gorman said.
Kentucky and federal records show four previous fatal accidents at the Pyro mine since it opened in February 1983, including a 1986 death that may have been related to methane. Less than a year ago, three miners were hurt in a blasting accident.
Wednesday's explosion occurred as the miners dismantled longwall mining machinery, which continuously moves a cutter from side to side along a long explosed coal face, O'Gorman said.
Sharon Scott, wife of one of the victims, CURTIS SCOTT, 47, of Madisonville, said her husband never talked at home about his work in the mines.
"He was quiet," she said. "He didn't like to talk about work at home, and he never discussed anything about it once he got home. He always left his work back at the mines."
The other victims were:
LYNN AUSTIN ASHMORE, 31, of Slaughters.
KENNETH EDWARD REED, 32, of Slaughters.
ROGER CLIFFORD, 32, of Morganfield.
MARK STEVEN HEDGES, 31, of Morganfield.
RICK DALE FURGERSON, 34, of Madisonville.
PAUL TERRY HARRIS, 39, of Providence.
ANTHONY TERRY McELROY, 36, of Providence.
ERNEST WARREN STEWART, 40, of Mortons Gap.
A memorial service was planned tonight at Union County High School in Morganfield.

Daily News Record Harrisonburg Virginia 1989-09-15