A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices


A PREVENTABLE TRAGEDY- No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster

By Jeff Deal

Ninety-nine Americans were working in the No. 9 coal mine just north of Farmington, W.Va., on the morning of Nov. 20, 1968 — but only 21 would return safely to loved ones and the light of day. And of the 78 individuals that died from the coal mine explosion, or by suffocation from the toxic levels of gases present afterwards, 19 would remain forever buried in the mine.

Bonnie Stewart’s Book, No.9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster, is a marvel of cogent narrative. The technical subject matter concerning coal mining techniques and the investigations of state and federal agencies into the deaths of 78 people is clear and easy to follow. The reader is free to explore, sometimes in near disbelief, how Consolidation Coal Company recklessly pursued profit by knowingly disregarding safety standards and labor laws and eventually perverted the justice system of the United States in an effort to maximize profits at the expense of the Americans whose labor originally created the company’s earnings.

The book generously details the lead-up, disaster and aftermath of the tragedy. Stewart carefully exhibits the lax and sometimes irresponsible safety record of the West Virginia mine, right up to the last safety violations the mine received — just 24 days before the deadly explosion. These violations included unsafe roof areas, poorly maintained equipment capable of triggering explosions, airways that weren’t properly supervised and dangerously exposed electrical wires. Stewart conveys testimony by employees and survivors describing how miners who reported safety issues were “rewarded” with the most arduous and hazardous duties the mine had to offer.

The contemptible treatment of the miners’ families and loved ones by the coal industry and their all-too-powerful legal and political machine, skillfully related by the author, was painful to read. Governor Arch Moore, (later found guilty of corruption) assured the public that the disaster was a freak accident, something the workers in the mine and later investigators knew to be patently false. Some employees of the mine were instructed by Consolidation Coal not to cooperate in the state and federal investigations seeking to determine the cause of the initial explosion. The retrieval of the victims bodies took years; 19 miners were never recovered.

After reading Stewart’s revealing account of the tragedy, one realizes that if the disaster had resulted from the careless actions by one or more ordinary citizens, it’s unlikely the persons could have escaped a conviction of second or third degree murder. It is more upsetting still to see a coal company virtually pardoned for the deaths of 78 Americans through legal maneuverings and political contributions paid for by the earnest labor of the victims. Would not this money have been better spent correcting the safety deficiencies within the mine that were known to Consolidation Coal?

The book’s most heart-rending revelation: Nearly all, if not all, coal mine disasters and fatalities are preventable when human safety and well-being is placed before coal production and profits.


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8 COMMENTS
  1. Paul J Componation says:

    I as one of the first msha inspectors involved with the explosion. I was involved until final sealing. Reported ly the cause was never determined. When facts want to be covered up ,2+ 2 always =3. One factor is always ommited. No one is ever at fault.I and another inspector wrote the complete disaster report. The report was never accepted. I worked on mine disasters for more than 25 years.I never allowed my integerty to be questioned. My superior said I had a problem,I alway s told it like iit was and he did not want to hear it. He refused to allow me to write an explosion report where smoking caused the esplosion. I believe the cause of the n0 9 explosion can be explained.

  2. Maria says:

    My whole family is from that area and I have heard stories about this explosion all my life…It should have never happend….My question to you is how do you know for sure smoking caused this disaster.???

  3. Paul J. componation says:

    The book is a complete fabrication The book is not factual. I was one of the first msha inspectors at the mine and remained involved 15 years until the final sealing. I and an other
    inspector wrote the final report Our report was factural and no way agrees with the book.
    I worked on mine disasters and accidents for 30 years. I never allowed my integrity to be questioned. The book is written solely for profit.
    r

  4. Paul J. componation says:

    The cause of the explosion can be explained who is cannot.

  5. Paul J. componation says:

    There arer always those who who will take advantage of other peoples sorrows for a dollar.
    Bonnie Stewart who probably did not even know the color of coal and less about the no 9
    explosion fabricated a lot of misinformation in the quest of a dollar. I was one of the first people at the mine,spent 15 years on the explosion and nine recovery. I , and another inspector wrote the final report Her book is a complete fabrication one who knows the facts.
    I never allowed my integer to be questioned, I told it like it was.

  6. Robert Kerns says:

    You claim your superior woudnt submit your report…and yet you didn’t come forward? This puts your integrity in question!!

  7. Tim Cox says:

    Protecting the Company all these years after a tragedy, if you truly were there all those years , tell how the inspectors allowed the company to cut coal while supposedly you inspectors looked for the lost souls, and 1979 they quit looking when the government grant ran out of money. Shame on you. Liar.

  8. Barbara DeMasi Belldina says:

    My father was on the rescue team. He had a hard time with this one and quit the team afterwards. I was in high school at the time.

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