West Frankfort, IL Coal Mine Gas Explosion, Dec 1951

Illinois Mine Disaster Memorial Marker.JPG Illinois Mine Disaster Memorial Marker 2.JPG

FEAR 100 DEAD IN MINE BLAST.

FIRST BURNED AND MANGLED BODIES FOUND.

TAKE OUT 28 VICTIMS AS RESCUE CREWS TRY TO REACH TRAPPED MEN.

West Frankfort, Ill -- (AP) -- Hopes faded last night for the rescue of from 50 to 60 men trapped in an explosion-shattered coal mine after 28 burned and torn bodies were brought to the surface.
Sweating rescue crews continued their desperate probing through thick smoke and gas to reach the men 550 feet underground at the Orient No. 2 mine near here.
Appeals were broadcast for more rescue volunteers.
Sobbing wives, sisters and children of the trapped men waited courageously for word from the men who had been working on their last shift before the Christmas vacation.
Mutilated Bodies.
The terrific violence of the underground blast Friday night was shown in the mutilated condition of the bodies brought up.
Estimates of the possible toll ranged to more than 100.
WALTER EADIE, state director of mines and minerals, believed the death toll would be about 80.
A pit boss, DENEEN TAYLOR, predicted the deaths would go above 100.
Mine Superintendent JOHN R. FOSTER predicted the final toll would be "over 70."
EADIE said the explosion probably was caused by an accumulation of methane, a type of gas frequently found in coal mines.
A spark could have set off the gas, he said.
Experienced miners held little hope for the trapped men.
They theorized that all had died -- either in the explosion, or from lack of oxygen.
Members of the rescue teams described scenes of underground horror -- hair standing straight up on the head of one body; other bodies pressed close to the floor as if the men made final, desperate clutches for life-giving air; bodies with limbs ripped off; others roasted.
Twenty-five of the 28 recovered bodies have been identified.
They were taken to a temporary morgue at the junior high school.
Four men, who survived the blast with injuries, got out Friday night.
The mine, owned by the Chicago, Wilmington and Franklin Coal Co., is oneof the world's largest shaft soft coal producers, producing three million tons annually.
It includes 12 miles of sprawling tunnels.
Sobbing Woman Wait.
It was a cold, grey day in West Frankfort.
In the gloomy concrete building sheltering the main shaft, about 30 wives and mothers waited for word from the vast underground diggings.
Some sobbed, handkerchiefs to their faces. Others sat in stoic silence. One grief-stricken woman stood alone in a corner.
Down a long corridor -- and out of their view -- was the shaft entrance.
Acid fumes steamed into the building each time the vault-like steel elevator door was opened.
The bodies, shapeless on stretchers, under wool blankets, were carried outside to ambulances.
Other relatives and friends waited in automobiles. A state trooper estimated that 800 cars were parked along roads in the area.
Gov. Adlai Stevenson made a hurried trip in from the state capital at Springfield.
Asks Contributions.
After conferring with mine officials he said there were indications that between 60 and 90 miners were unaccounted for.
The exact number could not be determined because many of the survivors, instead of checking in at the lamphouse, went back into the pit to help with the rescue work.
"I wish there was something I could say or do to help," said Governor Stevenson. "But I guess all I can do is pray."
"I hope people will send me contributions for the dependents of the dead and injured at this Christmas season."
"I have already solicited and received some. It is a very sad Christmas here in southern Illlinois."
Stevenson said he hoped the explosion was not due to anything that a modern mine safety code could have prevented.
Examined Friday.
The mine, manned by John L. Lewis' United Mine Workers, was inspected by a certified examiner at 6 p. m. Friday, after the day shift came off duty.
A total of 1,100 men work the diggings, producing about three million tons of bituminous a year.
Asked if any special investigation was planned, Stevenson said "there is nothing to do now until an inspection is made."
A West Frankfort national guard company, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross were lending a hand. The Red Cross rushed in oxygen equipment and blankets from St. Louis.
It reported that voluntary donors, rallying to the cause after the explosion, had given enough blood for any emergency.

"Look Like Roasted."
West Frankfort, Ill. -- (AP) -- A rescue worker at the coal mine disaster here said yesterday he saw several bodies "that looked like they had been roasted."
HERMAN MELVILLE, relieved after 12 hours of continuous work underground added:
"The explosion was so violent, that an eight-ton piece of machinery was knocked off its rails."
ANother rescue worker said the inside on the mine "looked like you took a bomb and dropped it into a subway."
ALEX BALABAS, who was in the pit when the blast rocked it last night, told newsmen the explosion was followed by "an air blast that hit us like a big wind."
"All of a sudden the air was full of dust and it was hard to breathe," he added. "By the time we got into the elevator cage 10 minutes had passed and smoke was pouring into the shaft."
BALABAS was given first aid for smoke and dust inhalation.
LLOYD DUPRE, whose father was listed as killed in the blast, also helped with rescue apptempts. Of the mine he said:
"It's all blown to hell. It looks like we lost them all."

Waterloo Daily Courier Iowa 1951-12-23

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ONE MINER IS FOUND ALIVE.

WARM BODIES INDICATE SIX ALIVE MONDAY.

WITH DEATH TOLL AT 119 ONE OF LAST TO DIE LEFT MESSAGE TO WIFE.

West Frankfort, Ill. -- (AP) -- One miner was rescued from a 56-hour entombment Monday after the nation's worst mine tragedy in 23 years claimed 119 lives.
Taken from the shaft 550 feet below the surface was CECIL SANDERS, 44, of Benton, Ill.
He was taken to the United Mine Workers hospital in fair condition.
Shortly after SANDERS was brought to the surface, Mine Superintendent JOHN R. FOSTER said:
"There are five men down there -- no more alive. We believe that is all."
One Leaves Message.
The discovery of the last of the 119 bodies on the day before Christmas added a poignant chapter to the desperate rescue efforts that have been in progress day and night since the violent explosion shattered the Orient No. 2 mine Friday night.
Morgue attendants reported one of the six bodies found early Monday still was warm.
Found on the body of B. R. WILLIAMS, about 40, of West Frankfort, was this final message scrawled on the inside of a cigaret package and addressed to his widow, LAURA:
"I love you all way (sic). I go tonight with Christ. I love Him too."
When SANDERS' was brought to the surface there were unconfirmed reports that a few other miners had been found alive.
Flicker Of Hope.
This sent a faint flicker of hope through the saddened crowd of relatives waiting at the mine's surface entrance.
Later investigation led to FOSTER'S statement that no more of the entrapped miners survived the terrific blast which killed men as far as two miles apart.
All but five of the bodies have been recovered from the debris-littered shafts.
One miner died Sunday night in a hospital of injuries received in the explosion. He was RALPH KENT of Marion, Ill.
W. W. LAMONT, hospital superintendent, said condition of the last bodies removed from the mine indicated at least six still had been alive as late as Monday morning.
Some of the bodies were warm when rescuers reached them.
Had Head In A Hole.
One of the bodies was found with its head in a hole that had been hastily dug in a desparate search for life-sustaining air.
The blast ripped through the tunnels at 7:35 p.m. (CST) Friday.
It occurred about two miles back from the shaft.
And it shattered timbers for three miles in the sprawling mine which covers a 12 mile area.
Most of the trapped miners never knew what hit them. Physicians said death in most cases was quick.
The bodies were horribly burned and mutilated. Limbs were ripped from some. Others were roasted.
Grave concern in the blast was shown in the flight here from Washington of Oscar Chapman, secretary of the interior, John L. Lewis, United Mine Workers president, and John Forbes, director of the U. S. bureau of mines.

Waterloo Daily Courier Iowa 1951-12-24

Listing Of Casualties:
ARTHUR ADAMS.
BILL AKINS.
FRU AUSTIN.
ROY B. BEATY.
LAWRENCE BELL.
WM. W. BELL.
CARROLL BRIDGES.
ASTON LEE BUFFORD.
PAUL VIRGIL DOLLINS.
JOSEPH L. FITZPATRICK.
HARRY GUNTER.
ROBERT HINES.
AUDREY HUFFSTUTLER.
ROY HUTCHINS.
JOHN KUCEWESKY.
UPSEY LAFET.
WALLACE MILLER.
WARREN MITCHELL.
GEORGE NOVAK.
EARL OVERTURF.
SHELBY PASLEY.
ANDY PESKA.
THOMAS PIERSON.
VALLIE PRITCHETT.
JOE REVAK.
ROBERT RICE.
CHARLES ROSE.
THOMAS RUNNELS.
JOHN FARKAS.
MARION ODLE.
JOHN POLIC.
GEORGE POLLOCK.
WM. D. SANDERS.
CHALON HOWARD SMITH.
CHARLES SOUTHERN.
SILAS STEWART.
HEARSTEL SUMMERS.
PAUL TAYLOR.
JOHN D. THOMAS.
LOUIS A. TRAPPER.
CHARLES H. WHITLOW.
CARL WILLIAMS.
EARL PAYNE.
RIVERS ASHMORE.
GUY RICE.
EARL R. REES.
PAUL COATS.
CLAUDE ROLAND.
OSCAR BARTLEY.
JAMES WM. FAIRBANKS.
ARCHIE FERBUS.
JOHN E. HAYNES.
PETE PETROFF.
CARROL STUBBLEFIELD.
ALBERIC VANCAUWELAERT.
WALTER L. WOODWARD.
ESTEL JAMES BRADLEY.
REV. ORAL BRADLEY.
LONNIE J. CAIREL.
GUY JOHNSON.
CHARLES E. BOYD.
RALPH KENT.
CLYDE MOSES.
CLYDE DUPREE.
CLARENCE EUBANKS.
ROLLA JONES.
SAM MONTGOMERY.
JOHN F. BENNETT.
ROY WESTRAY.
JAMES H. WILLIAMS.
CHARLES BARTONI.
WILBURN BELL.
JAMES L. BLACK.
JAMES O. CANTRELL.
THOMAS CLARK.
ANDREW CUNNINGHAM.
JOHN DOBRUFF.
GEORGE R. DUNLAP.
FRANK EURARD.
JAMES FOWLER.
HENRY OTIS HARPER.
HERSCHEL C. HARRIS.
ROSCOE KARNES.
OTIS LEWIS.
MYNETT LOCKHART.
BILL McDANIEL.
JOHN MATELIC.
CLAUDE MILLIGAN.
HARRY MORTHLAND.
EDWARD MUNDAY.
ROY L. NEIBEL.
R. L. NEWELL.
MAX P. NOLEN.
JOHN QUAYLE.
JOSEPH QUAYLE.
ALEXANDER RAMSAY.
ELLIS REACH, JR.
ELLIS REACH, SR.
TOM ROBERTS.
JOHN SADOSKI, JR.
STANLEY SADUSKY.
MIKE SENKUS.
CHARLES R. SMITH.
EARL H. SMITH.
GEORGE R. SMITH.
WM. R. SMITH.
LEON SUMMERS.
TED TAPLEY.
HOWARD WALL.
MAX WAWRZYNIAK.
B. R. WILLIAMS.
W. E. WILSON.
WM. ZELL YATES.
VICTOR YOUNKIN.
LOUIS ZANZUCHI.
JOE ZEBOSKI.
BURTON SPENCER.
WAYNE SPENCER.
JESSE CONNOR.

Comments

Orient 2 mine

My paternal Grandfather Aston Lee Bufford Sr. was killed in the Orient #2 mine explosion on 21 December 1951. I grew up listening to the stories surround this disaster, living and seeing it’s affects on my family. My father could never enjoy Christmas he was always in a bad mood and depressed during the Christmas season, as child I never understood my Father’s moody behavior during such festive time as Christmas, looking back now as an adult I can understand him now. I even have trouble enjoying Christmas.

Nearly 60 years since the disaster my mother can not talk about it without getting emotional and teary eyed. As she knew many of the Miners who were killed, she worked in a local café in Benton that was frequented by Miners who worked Orient 2.

Although I was born 14 years after the disaster it has left an impact on me as I never had the opportunity to know my Grandfather. I know him only through stories and pictures.

Michael Keith Bufford

warren mitchell

dear mr. bufford
I can understand the tension in your household at christmas. after my father warren mitchell was killed, christmas time felt as though there was something in the air of being scard. everytime the phone rang, at times my grandmother would just stand and stare and there was such a quitness. a quitness of tension. I got everything a child could possible want for christmas, but there always seemed as though there was something missing. i think it was the happiness and laughter of my mom and dad. i somehow developed a dis beliefe of christmas and started addressing it as just another day at an early age

Sammie markulen, mitchell, borst

Cecil Sanders

Then one miner found a live was my Great Grandfather. I have been trying to do a family tree for awhile now and i'm stuck at my great great grandparents William T. Sanders and Amanda sanders (Lefler). if you know any information, please feel free to contact me.

Cecil Sanders

My mother and Cecil Sanders were cousins. My grandmother, Iva Lefler and Amanda Lefler Sanders were sister.
I have some information and some photos you might be interested in.
Please email me.
Debbie V.

Debbie

Debbie ...
If you can email any pics to me I would be happy to add them to this historical site ..
stubear0430@juno.com
Sincerely
Stu

Orient #2 mine disaster December 1951

I was 10 years old in December 1951. We lived a couple miles south of Christopher in the country. It was known as Bugtussle. My dad Henry Kerkemeyer worked the night shift, the one that was involved in the explosion. However, he missed dieing with his fellow workers and friends as he had been transferred to the day shift just hours before he was to report to work that fateful night. I personally knew, as a boy, Guy Rice and his brother Robert. They were the brothers of our one room country school teacher John Rice who lived in Ziegler, my hometown. I also knew Jesse Conners as we once lived across the street from him in Ziegler. He and my dad were good friends and used to share rides to the mine.

Vernon Rice, brother to John, Guy and Robert, and his family lived a mile or so down the road from us. I remember the morning after the explosion Vernon's wife Geneva came pounding on our back door. She was hysterical. Through her sobs she told my dad what had happened. He got dressed and drove to the mines which was only five miles away. He came back a few ours later, white as a sheet and totally shaken. He sat down in the living room and cried like a baby. That was the only time in my life that I had seen my dad cry. He never went back to the mines and shortlly after the disaster we moved to Chicago and left the area totally.

A few years after his death 20 years ago I found a scrapbook with newspaper clippings among his belongings. They were all about that day when Christmas died along with all those men for the families of those souls. I was looking at those clippings today and did some more research on the Internet when I found this site and decided to write this letter. I will always remember those terrible days as long as I live and how my dad missed being killed by an act of Providence just hours before he was to report to work.

Mine disaster

I was only six years old when this happened, but I remember it clearly. My dad was the Episcopal minister, so he spent the week away trying to help the grieving families. It was a Christmas I will never forget. It is a shame that our country still allows people to work in such dangerous conditions.

Orient 2 mine disaster

My grandfather is Walter Eadie. He obviously did not talk about this matter with his grandkids, but many of those men were also his friends.

orient 2 disaster

My Grandfather Aston Lee Bufford Sr. was killed in the orient no.2 mine explosion in December 21st 1951. I was born some 14 years later on December 23rd 1965. My Father Aston Bufford Jr. would tell me that my birthday was a depressing day for me, as that was the date that his Father’s (Aston Sr.) body was brought up from the mine. I grew up listening to stories of the fateful day back in 1951. How the Gym at the West Frankfort High School was turned into a temporary morgue. On occasion my Mother will speak of the explosion nearly 60 years later she can not speak of it without tears. I have spoken with others who remember the explosion their stories were never told with dry eyes.

The 119 men who were killed that night are heroes; they died providing for their families, we should never forget these men, and the effect their deaths had on their families then and now. We should never forget.

Warren Mitchell

Sammie,

You said that your father was Warren Mitchell? He was married to my grandmother at the time of his death. I was just wondering how you were related to him, because I have never heard of you or anything. I would love to know more about you and your connection to Warren Mitchell.

C.R.