Willow Island, WV Scaffold Collapse, May 1978

Scaffold Falls; 51 Die In Power Plant Mishap

WILLOW ISLAND, W. Va. (UPI) - Federal labor inspectors today were trying to determine why the scaffold inside a power plant cooling tower collapsed without warning, sending all 51 workers to their deaths 170 feet below.

Ten members of one family were killed in the accident at the Monongahela Power Co. plant, Thursday morning.

Carpenters, electricians and other workers tumbled to their deaths in a cascade of lumber, concrete, bricks and twisted steel.

No one on the scaffold that encircled the tower was spared when it began to disintegrate. Like a column of dominoes, they topped to their deaths.

The Charlestown, W. Va., Gazette reported today that some construction workers had complained that some foremen were rushing the project and not allowing the tower's concrete to harden sufficiently. Construction supervisors, according to the newspaper, blamed the accident on the scaffold itself.

For GARY STEELE and his wife, the tragedy was almost unbearable: ten relatives perished in the accident - an uncle, four brothers, and five cousins.

For the DUELLEY brothers, Thursday's tragedy was a quirk of fate - one brother died and the other lived.

The DUELLEY brothers had been almost inseparable, but Thursday EDGAR refused to follow his brother up the spiraling scaffolding.

"No, BUCK, I don't want to go up on that tower," EDGAR said, and was working in another area when he heard the thundering crash.

JOHN PEPPLER, a 38-year-old laborer, was on the ground below when the scaffold starling collapsing.

"The first thing, I heard was concrete falling," said PEPPLER, "had just sent a basket of it up."

"I looked over my left shoulder and I could see it falling. I could see people falling through the air and everything falling."

PEPPLER jumped under a truck ramp inside the tower and four other workers ran to the center, avoiding the crumbling debris.

"The best description I can give you is that it continued to break loose in a circle more or less like you would peel an apple and fell 168 feet." said State Police Maj. W. F. DONOHOE.

"It's the worst industrial accident outside of a coal mining accident that's ever occurred in the state."

The deaths were a personal tragedy to many of the residents of Willow Island and the other nearby small towns along the Ohio River. One family alone accounted for 10 of the victims.

EDGAR DUELLEY, a beefy man with dark hair, controlled his grief until he had to go to the temporary morgue to identify his brother's body. There he wept, the tears pouring down his tanned face.

"It was a heck of a way to lose one," he said.

KEN BALL who was among a team of ministers aiding in counseling relatives of the victims, said, "I've seen death before, but this, it's something you don't get used to."

"I haven't seen anything this bad since World War II," said BALL, minister of Bethany United Methodist Church in Parkersburg.

The tower measuring about 360 feet in diameter at the base, was one of two being constructed by Research-Cottrell, Inc. of Bound Brook, N. J., for the Allegheny Power System's $677 million Willow Island Power Plant, which was scheduled to begin operation next year.

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