Helper, UT Coal Mine Explosion, Dec 1963
9 KILLED, 10 ESCAPE AS EXPLOSION ROARS THROUGH UTAH COAL MINE.
OFFICIAL BLAMES BLAST ON METHANE, DUST.
Helper, Dec. 16 -- Nine men were killed Monday morning in a violent explosion at a coal mine northwest of Helper.
Preliminary investigation blamed methane gas and coal dust for the explosion, the second fatal blast in Utah mines in four months.
One mile worker, JESUS NUNEZ PRICE, who was some 2,400 feet from the explosion, was thrown 200 feet but walked to the mine entrance and was taken to Carbon Hospital. PRICE suffering from bruises, lacerations and shock.
Nine other miners escaped without injury in the blast which occurred at 11:50 a.m. in the Carbon Fuel Co. mine, 3 1/2 miles up Hardscrabble Canyon west of the town of Martin. Martin is one mile north of Helper.
Casper A. Nelson, state industrial commissioner, who flew to the scene Monday afternoon said he believed the explosion, about one and a quarter miles inside the mine, was caused by methane gas mixed with coal dust.
The entrance slope of the mine runs 2,700 feet into the earth and then divides into an east and a west shaft. The west shaft, where the victims were working runs 2,500 feet westerly and then 1,400 feet northerly.
The victims bodies were located in midafternoon by a rescue team from Kaiser Steel Co's. mines led by John Peperdakis, Kaiser general manager for operations.
James Diamanti, president of Carbon Fuel Co., who went in the mine after the blast, said there had been an explosion "of tremendous force" but no cave-in. There has been no gas problem in the operations for many months, he said.
All of the dead were in a 1,000-foot-square area, the bodies singed but not burned.
Four were lying beside a mechanical mining device, three were beside an ore car, one was between the ore car and the mining machine and the ninth was at the entrance of the tunnel.
"It appears that the men dropped right where they were," said Mr. Diamanti, as tears streaked down his coal-blackened face.
"It is difficult to sit here and tell you how sorry we are. We have never had anything so drastic happen in my lifetime. I have nothing but sorrow and regret for the wives, children and others left behind," the company official declared.
Mr. Diamanti said the mine would be closed indefinitely for investigation by the state, the federal government and the company itself.
Rescue teams from Kaiser, Geneva Steel Co. mines and Independent Coal Co. were forced to wear oxygen masks because of carbon monoxide gas which poured through the tunnels after the blast.
Clair Self, Kaiser safety engineer, one of the first into the explosion site, said it was his opinion that it was caused by gas. There was no "roof fall" nor any fire when it occurred.
The bodies of the dead miners were lashed in ore cars after the air was cleared enough by the ventilation system for rescue teams to work. The first was brought to the surface at 6:10 p.m.
The explosion came without apparent warning in the westerly shaft of two in the mine.
One rescue worker said, "I don't think they even knew what hit them."
MARION GONZALES, a train operator working in the easterly shaft, said he did not hear the blast.
"All of a sudden there was a tremendous cloud of smoke. I felt a big rush of air, but I did not here any explosion."
Carbon County Sheriff Albert Passic and Chief Deputy Charles Senken, Jr., said the explosion was heard at the entrance of the mine, however.
Heavy, white smoke billowed out of the mouth of the shaft about half an hour after the blast.
Rescue workers hastily rigged up lines to feed fresh air into the explosion area as some 25 men prepared to go into the mine which was blocked by debris and heavy smoke.
The dead in the blast were identified as:
BEN VALDEZ, 39, Helper.
JOHN SENECHAL, JR., 32, Kenilworth.
BEN MONTOYA, 40, Helper.
GERALD NIELSEN, 43, Helper.
MIKE ARDOHAIN, 38, Price.
ARCHIE LARSEN, 40, Helper.
ANDY JUVAN, 42, Spring Glen, Carbon County.
VICTOR FOSST, 47, Helper.
HEINO LINN, 38, Price.
Chris Diamanti, brother of the company president and underground manager in the mine, said he had been working in the blast area all morning and had gone to the east drift about 20 minutes before the explosion.
"The concussion popped out ears but we heard no blast. We figured it was a 'bounce' (cave-in) and started to probe for it toward the west shaft," he said.
"When we were about half-way over, I contacted JIM (his brother), who told me what had happened, and then we made sure all the power in the mine was off," said the company official, one of the first to go into the explosion area.
The company president and another brother, STEVE, voiced high praise for DR. OLIVER PHELPS, who went into the mine with the first rescue team.
The company officials also commended Helper police, the Carbon County Sheriff's office, the State Highway Patrol and the rescue workers who came to the explosion scene.
Traffic was stopped at U-56 about two miles below the mine except for rescue teams and newsmen while friends and relatives of the miners waited around a fire near the road.
CHRIS DIAMANTI said the miners were not using powder or blasting caps in the operations Monday.
Sheriff Passic said it was believed that the temperature at the time of the blast reached 1,800 degrees.
The Carbon Fuel Co. has been in business since 1934 and the mine where the explosion took place has been in operation for nine years.
JAMES DIAMANTI said there had been no accident at the mine for more than 18 months and that an inspector last month termed it "a model mine, by far the best in the West in regards to 'housekeeping' and safety programs."
The explosion Monday was the first in the state after the Aug. 27 blast at the Texas Gulf Sulphur Co. potash mine being built near Moab which killed 18 miners. Seven others were brought to the surface in a four-day rescue operation.
The last coal mine blast in the Helper area was at Sunnyside seven years ago when one man was killed and three others were rescued after 44 hours.
The Salt Lake Tribune Utah 1963-12-17