Switchback, WV Deadly Mine Explosion, Jan 1909




Inspectors Had Examined the Shaft and Had Pronounced It Safe -- 48 Bodies Taken Out.

Special to The New York Times.
Wheeling, West Va., Jan. 12 -- Headed by Chief Mine Inspector JOHN LAING and half a dozen Deputy Inspectors, a band of rescuers are battling with the flames to reach the innermost part of the Lick Branch Colliery of the Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company at Switchback, West Va., where 105 men were killed and a hundred more entombed by an explosion at 8:30 o'clock this morning.
The explosion is believed to have been caused by the use of oil lamps by new miners, who were employed to take the places of the fifty-one who were killed in an explosion in the same mine on Dec. 28.
More than 200 men working on the day shift had entered the mine, and 100 of these were in a working apart from the one where their companioins were killed. It was at first believed that these, too, had been killed, but a message late tonight to Gov. DAWSON from Inspector LAING said that there are hopes of saving most of them. The rescuers have a hard task before them, as the explosion caused hundreds of tons of slate and coal to fall, cutting off all escape. The shaft they are in is now on fire, and the entombed men are in danger of suffocation.
Forty-eight bodies have already been recovered. Most of them are Americans, but in the confusion only three have been recognized. They are JOHN PAUL, mine boss; WILBUR HURLEY, and ELIAS SCOTT.
All of the bodies were badly burned and identification of the men was made by means of effects upon their persons.
The shock of the explosion shook houses for half a mile around and windows were blown out of many buildings.
Mine Foreman BOWERS, who was near the entrance, was blown from his feet by the explosion, but managed to crawl out safely, as did also ROBERT SMITH, a miner.
The main entry of the mine is four miles long, running from one side of the mountain to the other. Debris was blown from both entrances, which gives an idea of the tremendous force of the explosion. But the fans which furnish the fresh air for the workings, as in the former, explosion, were not disabled, and are forcing fresh air into the mines.
A train was rushed from this city to the scene of the disaster, carrying bratticing and other material to be used in the work of exploration and rescue.
The debris from the explosion of two weeks ago had not been cleared away and twenty men were engaged in this work. Nineteen contract miners with their crews were at work in a new entry, and it is feared that all of these men were lost.
Two brothers named SURRATT of Speedwell, Va., who went to the mine at the time of the other explosion through curiosity and accepted positions, are in the mine.
Bystanders at the time of the explosion say that immense clouds of soot and smoke gushed from the mine almost simultaneously with the detonation, and immediately were sucked back in enormous volumes into the mine.
On the Tug River side, four miles from the main entrance, the smoke and flame gushed from the entry, burning the twigs and small limbs from trees that grew near. The damage to the mine cannot be estimated.
The explosion was one of the most deadly that has ever occurred in this region. In 1884, at the Southwest Virginia Improvement Company's mine, 360 were killed in an explosion. To-day's horror is the most disastrous that has occurred since.
On Dec. 28 an explosion occurred in this mine, which, up to that time, had been regarded as a model mine. On that occasion the cause of the explosion was not ascertained, and of the 51 victims the last body was brought to the surface only last Friday, after which the State mine inspectors declared that the mine was again safe and that work could be resumed.
The majority of the miners who were engaged to resume work at the mine were Americans, with a few foreigners and some colored workers as laborers. Most of them were married and had families, and only recently moved to Switchback to go to work in the mines. It was stated that the mine was examined early to-day before the new shift went to work, and that it was reported to be perfectly safe.
The Legislature now in session at Charlestown will institute a rigid investigation.

The New York Times New York 1909-01-13


Transcribing a cemetery in

Transcribing a cemetery in Floyd Co , Va, I found a tombstone inscribed:

J. H. Bolen

May 12, 1888

Killed in the Branch Mines explosion Jan 12, 1909

Is there any way to verify he is indeed a miner who was killed in the accident mentioned in this article? Does anyone have a list of the miners who perished ?

Thank you , Stu for taking the time to research and share all the information you are. Many of us are thankful for your excellent work!

mflatfooter in Virginia