Bergoo, WV Coal Mine Cave-In, Dec 1981


Bergoo, W.Va. (AP) -- The wife and five children of a trapped coal miner maintained a vigil here today as weary workers deep underground chipped away at an enormous block of slate that instantly killed two other miners in a cave-in.
Three other miners scrambled away from the falling block and survived the collapse at the Stillhouse Run mine, and one was injured critically. Still inside, 1,750 feet from the mouth of the mine, was DONALD ARBOGAST, 31, of Webster Springs.
Officials held out little hope Friday that he survived.
Rescuers, who worked doggedly since the collapse late Thursday night, said the block of slate was 35 feet long, 20 feet wide and eight feet thick. The coal seam was just 40 inches high, requiring the miners, and later the rescuers, to work on hands and knees.
Four miles away from the mine down a winding road, at the foot of Leatherneck Mountain, ARBOGAST'S family awaited word. Other residents of the tiny central West Virginia community gathered in small groups on street corners in a show of support.
"It's real quiet up there," said Velma Peran, gesturing toward the mountain. "The longer it goes on the quieter it gets."
Workers unearthed the body of BOB BENNETT, 34, of Bergoo on Friday and later found that of DOYLE GILLIS, 36. Both had been crushed instantly, officials said.
"There was no warning," said one survivor, apprentice miner LARRY CLEVENGER, 18, who saw the block come loose and got beneath a mining machine. "It was the worst thing that ever happened to me."
CLEVENGER, who escaped without a scratch, said he "thought of everything" and prayed during the ordeal.
Working beside CLEVENGER was DENZIL CUTLIP, 27, of Webster Springs. It took seven hours to get hhim out after he was found pinned to the floor, officials said. He was in serious condition Friday night at West Virginia University Medical Center in Morgantown after surgery to mend deep gashes in both arms.
"DENZIL and I talked about how we were doing,"
CLEVENGER said. "And we tried to keep each other's spirits up."
CARL HULL, 24, of Webster Springs, was trapped for about an hour. He said he was just three feet from BENNETT when the roof collapsed, but supports over him held while those above BENNETT fell.
The cave-in "sounded like thunder," he said, and BENNETT "just disappeared" under crashing rock.
Relatives said that during the rescue attempt, ARBOGAST'S wife, Louise, was in seclusion with the couple's five children.
The miner's brother said ARBOGAST had expressed concern about the roof conditions before entering the mine Thursday.
The non-union mine is owned by Elk River Sewell Coal Co. whose engineer, Phil McClung, said he did not know why the roof collapsed. The state inspectors also were unable to offer an explanation. The survivors said no explosion occurred.

News Frederick Maryland 1981-12-05