Early in the morning of May 6, 1968, the miners who formed the Saxsewell No. 8 abundance in Hominy Falls, Nicholas County, appear for assignment afterwards a weekend off. None had the faintest clue that aggregate would change for them in an instant.
Boring into Big Sewell Mountain, the abundance was about shaped like an “h.” It took two groups of miners 30 account to ability their workspaces to activate assignment at 7:30 a.m.
The aboriginal accumulation of 14 found its way to 3,500 anxiety into the abundance in the arctic mains of the abundance beeline from the capital entry.
The additional accumulation of 10 miners made its way in an opposite direction some 4,700 anxiety into the additional appropriate or the far basal of the “h.”
The men commonly would accept been aing by their supervisor, Frank Davis, who fabricated it a ritual to appointment anniversary man at the alpha of a shift. But Davis was topside, cat-and-mouse for a abundance ambassador to access who had been at the abundance the Thursday and Friday prior.
Davis waited for the ambassador until aloof afore 9 a.m., but when supplyman and abundance tractor abettor Ernest Fitzwater exited, Davis told him to delay for the ambassador as he capital to access the abundance to ysis on the advance of the day’s work.
At about 9 a.m., Davis anesthetized the south capital arch area atramentous from the workspace of the accumulation of 10 was authoritative its way to the capital conveyor.
“Old Frank, he admired you to run coal,” said Jennings Lilly, a continuous miner abettor who was allotment of the accumulation of 10 alive that day. “He acclimated to appear bottomward to the aperture of the alluvion and hug my aing and affectionate of embarrass me. I had the best crew; we ran lots of coal.”
While the accumulation was bearing coal, it was all advancing from one room, the No. 3 room.
Lilly’s crew, amid in the No. 1 room, was active alive on a burst basic of his machine.
Davis, annoyed with what he saw advancing from the accumulation of 10’s direction, connected on to ysis on the beyond accumulation beeline ahead, not alive in a few account the abundance would be befuddled into chaos.
At about 9:40 a.m., Lilly’s aggregation heard babble and a blitz of babble advancing from the No. 3 allowance and ran to see what was happening.
A affiliate of Lilly’s crew, Renick McClung had gone to aback a pin to advice fix the continuous miner, but aback the accumulation confused into the No. 2 room, they begin baptize entering the abundance and, on the attic of the mine, an benumbed man.
It was Gene Martin who was allotment of the aggregation alive the No. 3 allowance aback the miner inadvertently broke into a abounding alone mine, spilling millions of gallons of baptize into their own mine. The deluge pushed aside the miner, which advised tons, and three atramentous pans anchored into the ground.
Without time for a able warning, Martin had somehow affective authority of the pans and was tossed into the No. 2 allowance as Lilly, Joe Fitzwater, Larry Lynch, foreman John Moore Jr. and Edward Scarbro were waiting.
“It done Martin appropriate aback over there with us,” Lilly said. “His aerial were arranged asset abounding of coal. They had to dig it out. He was worse off than any of us.”
Acting quickly, Moore formed on acclimation Martin’s duke which had been cut in the tumult.
“Someone begin a medical emergency kit. There wasn’t abundant in it,” Jennings said, abatement as he remembered the contest of 50 years ago. “You anticipate of that man’s aerial aloof actuality arranged abounding of that accomplished coal. I’ll never forget, that baptize aloof articulate like the ocean roaring.”
As the baptize rose about them, the six miners in the No. 2 allowance approved their best to escape, but were affected by aerial baptize and alive electrical curve to about-face around.
Little did they know that the four actual miners of their accumulation had not survived the blitz of water.
Work goes on
As Davis fabricated his way to the aggregate of his miners, he had little clue what was activity on abaft him.
Inspecting the advancing assignment in the arctic mains, Davis radioed the apparent at 10:30 a.m. afterwards acquainted that the capital atramentous belt had stopped.
After accepting chat from the apparent that the belt was chock-full to bright a balk from an alfresco bin, Davis connected his duties.
At about 10:50 a.m., the abundance administrator radioed accumulation man Ernest Fitzwater and asked him if the abundance ambassador had accustomed yet.
Ernest Fitzwater replied no, at which point Davis told him to resume his accustomed duties and to accompany aliment into the mine.
The supplyman was accustomed to accustomed aliment throughout the mine, alike to his brother Joe who formed in the extreme alcove of the mine. But he but was not able for what happened next.
“I was alive a the basal of the abruptness aback all of a abrupt I hit water,” Ernest Fitzwater said in a address in The Raleigh Register on May 7, 1968. “It was about a bottom from the roof and ascent fast. By now the buggy had jack-knifed so it was all I could do to get advanced of the water.”
He did that by benumbed a agent belt to the account and hasty to radio Davis to acquaint him.
Around the aforementioned time, Davis noticed a ample bulk of baptize on the agent belt.
“The aboriginal affair that popped into my mind, there allegation be a big thunderstorm outside, so now that didn’t amuse my mind,” Davis said in a abundance adventure audition afterwards in the month. “I stood there, it allegation accept been for a minute or two, somehow the baptize absorbed me on the belt and afterwards a minute or two on my mind, I said, ‘I’ll go ysis on that.”
Davis headed adjoin the south capital belt arch area beforehand he had apparent atramentous moving.
About the time that Davis begin the arrival of baptize for himself, Fitzwater was able to ability him through a radio band to acquaint him.
Davis ordered Fitzwater to acquaint the miners that Davis had aloof left, cogent them to seek the accomplished arena in the abundance and to accept the alfresco abundance administrator to adjustment pumps be beatific to the abundance immediately.
Grabbing beltman Edward Rudd to abetment him, Davis took off in the administration of the 10 miners alive in the extreme alcove of the abundance afore active into a abounding chamber.
Turning about in an attack to acknowledgment to the accomplished ground, Davis and Rudd’s acknowledgment aisle had been blocked by the admission water. The brace was able to achieve their way to addition aerial point.
“We had to kneel, clamber and airing angled over for 30 anxiety in a abounding adit with alone our noses aloft the water’s surface,” Davis afterwards told wire reporters.
The abundance administrator and beltman afresh climbed aloft a agent band and began the connected wait.
Efforts to ability the trapped miners began immediately, with accomplishment teams and aerial aggregate baptize pumps bottomward on Hominy Falls.
While Davis and Rudd, forth with 13 others trapped on the accomplished arena in the arctic mains, were able to advance acquaintance with those topside, the six miners holed up in the No. 2 allowance were cut off from the world.
Word bound advance of the blow throughout the community, cartoon in ancestors members, accustomed citizens and media associates to the rural site.
The day afterward the incident, Tuesday, May 7, 1968, the 13 miners trapped calm were able to accept aliment and aliment in closed artificial tubes beatific bottomward the agent band as efforts in an adjoining abundance got beneath way to cut through the atramentous bond and into the No. 8 mine.
A borehole accomplished the area of Davis and Rudd the aforementioned day, acceptance aliment to be beatific to the pair.
Though in acquaintance with 15 of the miners, attempts to acquaint with the others trapped were futile.
Noting their area abysmal and low in the mine, those arch the accomplishment accomplishment were alpha to anticipate the worst.
“It looks bad for them,” Elmer Workman, the state’s advance at the Department of Mines, told reporters.
Pumping efforts connected Wednesday and Thursday with acquaintance still not actuality fabricated with the miners trapped in the greatest base of the mine.
While the alfresco apple began to accept that there wasn’t achievement for those with whom acquaintance had not been made, hundreds of anxiety beneath the earth, the six miners who had survived the aboriginal deluge of flood amnion were awash together.
When they were clumsy to acquisition a way out on the aboriginal day, the six holed up in the No. 2 room, closed off and apprenticed up adjoin the atramentous bond by the ascent waters.
In a hurry, the men had affective all the abstracts they could and congenital themselves a baby apartment in the low beam space.
Running bound out of food, Jennings told the added men that they would accept to alcohol the attenuated abundance baptize to survive.
“It didn’t aroma actual good,” Lilly said aftermost anniversary as he took a abysmal breath, absolution out a quiet sigh. “We drank it. I’m not ashamed; if we hadn’t accept drank it, wouldn’t be actuality today.”
In the darkness, Lilly did the alone affair he could do.
“They said I didn’t beddy-bye for two or three canicule and afresh I slept for 24 hours,” the retired miner said afore arise a smile. “They said they anticipation I died.”
Topside, in an accomplishment to achieve acquaintance with any survivors, a ample assignment was brought over to area engineers believed Lilly and the added men to be.
“Them old boys heard that assignment advancing and they anticipation they would accompany us bottomward aliment and aggregate else,” Lilly said, abacus that anniversary man came up with an adjustment for rescuers.
Outside, forth with the conduct operation, bounded ambulances were brought in by rescuers, assertive that they would anon ability the trapped miners.
Bob “Digger” O’Dell was the disciplinarian of one of those ambulances.
The administrator of the Wallace & Wallace burial home area in Ansted, the cruise to Hominy Falls was aing to home for O’Dell, who had developed up in adjacent Leivasy.
“I knew bisected of them almost,” O’Dell said of the trapped miners. “I beggarly by name and eight or 10 of them I knew actually well.”
A army of families, accompany and ytical onlookers, ancestors associates would allocution to the adolescent Leivasy man who abounding circadian briefings by the rescuers.
“Somebody from anniversary ancestors backward there at all times,” O’Dell said. “It was commodity that actually devastated everybody.”
One ancestors in accurate that O’Dell remembers actually able-bodied were the Lynches from adjacent Richwood. A son, Larry Lynch, was one of the six trapped with Lilly and out of contact.
“His dad and mother would appear to the ambulance every atramentous and allocution to me,” O’Dell said.
What O’Dell couldn’t accept accepted at the time was that adolescent Lynch was arena a key role trapped central the mine.
A adherent Christian, Lilly said that abounding would comedy amateur on the youngest affiliate of the crew, but while they were trapped, the men central abstruse a new account for the adolescent man who generally led them in adoration during their ordeal.
By the atramentous of Thursday, May 9, the nine baptize pumps in use by rescuers had bargain the baptize abundant for Davis and Rudd to acknowledge the added accumulation of miners that had acquaintance with the outside.
Davis would afterwards call to wire reporters the alliance with the added miners.
“We accepted anniversary added and the men were abundantly blessed about this bright affirmation that the baptize was receding,” Davis said.
The abundance administrator accustomed aloof in time for air mattresses to be delivered to the accumulation through a borehole.
“All 15 men say they are in acceptable action and all had acceptable beddy-bye on air mattresses,” C.E. Richardson, admiral of the aggregation that endemic the abundance told reporters at the scene. “They asked for hot amber and donuts for breakfast.”
For the six trapped afterwards communication, things did not improve.
Efforts to assignment bottomward to the men led to award annihilation but water, arch those in allegation to accept the were six were lost.
With an actualization of Dr. Lee Todd at the abundance site, acceptance began to agitate amid the 500 or so assemblage that accomplishment was imminent.
While that accomplishment wouldn’t appear Friday night, the baptize was bargain abundant by 3:30 a.m. for a accretion aggregation to ability the 15 miners with whom had they had been in contact for days.
One by one, the 15 men rode a agent belt topside, with Oscar Dillon actuality the aboriginal to ability the surface; the last of the 15 accomplished the apparent 45 account later.
“It was aloof a catechism of when,” now-rescued miner said Ottie Walton to wire reporters. “I anticipation it would be a little sooner, but oh my, there was a lot of baptize there!”
What afraid the accessible the best was the action of the miners.
Instead of sending the miners to the hospital, Dr. Todd was able to accelerate 13 of the rescued miners beeline home.
“They’re in bigger concrete action than some of the volunteers on the accomplishment team,” Dr. Todd told the wire reporters afterwards the rescue. “They were a little shaky, but I’m abiding they will all be aback in the mines — apparently anon — aggravating to acquisition the others still trapped in there.”
A miner aback the age of 17, Davis seconded that assessment in a chat with the media.
“Miners apprehend a alarming job, but it’s my vocation,” Davis said. “A man should like his vocation. I adore mine. You can achieve things and assignment with men and animal personalities. That’s the alone affair I apperceive how to do.”
That mindset was anon put to work.
With abounding assertive that the six actual men had been lost, the abundance rescuers and the rescued miners themselves didn’t accord up.
On Monday, May 13, miners who were rescued alone two canicule beforehand alternate to accommodate a hand.
“We accept to help,” Edward Rudd, the beltman who was trapped aboriginal with Davis told wire reporters at the scene. “I couldn’t sit at home aback I apperceive the others are still in there.”
While abounding on the alfresco had accustomed up hope, the six trapped had not.
On the aforementioned Monday that Rudd alternate to help, the six fabricated an attack to acquisition a way out, but were afresh angry aback by baptize and aback Joe Fitzwater was affected by bad air.
“We had to annoyance Joe aback up there (to the No. 2 room) on a shovel,” Jennings said.
On Tuesday, May 14, while bounded newspapers lacked any acknowledgment of rescue, those activities continued.
“I acquaint you one thing, it fabricated a accepter out of me that a atramentous miner would do annihilation to accomplishment anybody,” ambulance man O’Dell said, “They gave it day and night. It was actually an experience.”
According to O’Dell, the efforts of the rescuers were so able to ability the men in any accessible way, two of them were transported to the hospital with affection attacks and addition with injuries abiding in the effort.
Underground, the trapped miners who were feared asleep kept their accord and artlessly waited for rescue.
“We never absent clue (of time),” Lilly said. “Everyone had a watch. Aback we bare a ablaze we alone acclimated one light.
Remembering aback to the base of his ordeal, Lilly paused with tears alpha to anatomy in his eyes and said, “Whenever we came out of there, every ablaze we had was burned.”
As the majority of the crowds achromatic abroad afterwards the accomplishment of the aboriginal 15, O’Dell said the accepted acceptance was that the men still in the abundance were all dead.
“Well, they knew they were dead,” O’Dell said. “To be honest with you there were 10 anatomy bags.”
With the ability that the miners actual underground were best acceptable dead, O’Dell was afraid aback he heard a tap on his ambulance window while he was sleeping at the site.
Outside the window, he noticed Mr. Lynch and was afraid to see Mrs. Lynch, who had not been at the armpit for a brace canicule because she was sick.
Woken from his coma about midnight the morning of May 16, O’Dell was afraid by what he heard next.
“The Lord told Mom (Larry Lynch’s mother) that they’re activity to acquisition them at a assertive time,” O’Dell remembers Mr. Lynch saying.
Not alive what to believe, O’Dell aggregate the appointment with a civic account correspondent who was additionally sleeping in O’Dell’s ambulance.
The men were not abiding what to anticipate about the prophecy, but what happened aing would abruptness O’Dell alike more.
At about 1 a.m. on May 16, baptize had been bargain abundant to acquiesce rescuers to attack what they anticipation was a accretion mission.
As the accretion aggregation made its way afterpiece to area the calamity had aboriginal occurred, they were abashed to see beginning cossack prints on the attic of the mine.
Turning aback to the surface, addition accretion aggregation entered the mine.
“I heard their toes,” Lilly said of his aboriginal acquaintance with the alfresco apple in about 10 days, growing affecting still 50 years later. “A lot of them had a metal bowl about the advanced of their boot. You could apprehend their toe curtains on that agent line.”
Something afflicted for the six men while they were cut off from the world.
“Some of us didn’t get along,” Lilly said of the group’s accord afore the accident. “We got forth in there.”
Alone calm for 237 hours, the men exited the abundance at the aforementioned time.
With acquisitive accompany and ancestors waiting, the men chock-full and formed a circle.
Led by the youngest man, Larry Lynch, they prayed.
“I stood there with them,” O’Dell said of the moment. “I acquaint you every one of them had a testimony. There wasn’t a dry eye there.”
While barbate and skinny, all the men had the backbone to airing to the cat-and-mouse ambulances.
Larry Lynch got in O’Dell’s ambulance and led the way to Sacred Affection Hospital in Richwood with the emergency ablaze aflame but advancement a apathetic clip at the appeal of the adolescent man who had aloof able assertive death.
O’Dell would go on to participate in accompaniment backroom but he was larboard with an consequence from what he saw in May 1968.
“It was actually an acquaintance and it was one that I will never balloon and I’m abiding a lot of bodies won’t,” O’Dell said.
But for some, it is a apricot memory.
“More or beneath it seems like a bad dream anymore,” Lilly said. You don’t anticipate about it every day, but sometimes you do.”
For Lilly, abounding of his thoughts go aback to what could have happened.
The Friday above-mentioned to the accident, Lilly had been angry abroad from the bank that bankrupt through by the ambassador who said that the aggregation didn’t accept abundant abutment posts installed.
While abounding would anticipate that Lilly would be agitated that a borehole never accomplished him and the added five, it is aloof the opposite.
According to the constant miner, the area in which the six miners were trapped was lower than the flood waters.
By the way the men had formed the abundance and by the way the baptize rushed in quickly, Lilly believes that an air abridged was formed and if a borehole had accomplished his area the exhaustion of the amplitude would accept been appear acceptance the baptize to absorb the men.
He is additionally hopeful that an ysis into the blow which begin that maps of the mines complex had not been adapted accurately may accept led to some meaningful change in the industry.
Like abounding of the men involved, Lilly alternate to mining aural months of actuality rescued.
“That all I know,” he said of the occupation, abacus that to this day that he still misses it.
Trapped for 237 hours, diagnosed with atramentous lung and accepting assorted aback surgeries, Lilly is still quick to able a antic or a smile.
“I’m in appealing acceptable shape,” Lilly said quickly. “You see bodies a lot worse.”
Those who asleep in the deluge of baptize in the abundance on May 6, 1968, were William Burdette of Rainelle, Claude Roy Dodd of Rainelle, Renick McClung of Orient Hill and Eli Walkup of McRoss.
The 15 miners who were rescued on May 11 were Glen Amick, of Leivasy, Lonnie Bennett of Fenwick, Harry Bess of Richwood, Issac Casto of Nettie, Eldon Collins of Fenwick, Addison Copen of Rupert, Frank Davis of Richwood, Oscar Dillon of Nettie, Osmond Dillon of Hominy Falls, Roy McClure of Richwood, Elwood O’Dell of Crichton, Edward Rudd of Leivasy, Hershel Seat of Craigsville, Andy Walton of Hominy Falls and Ottie Walton of Quinwood.
The six who braved 237 hours absolutely cut off from the apple and who were rescued on May 16 were Joe Fitzwater of Rupert, Jennings Lilly of Mt. Nebo, Larry Lynch of Richwood, John Moore Jr. of Buckeye, Gene Martin of Clintonville and Edward Scarbro of Richwood.
This commodity was aggregate through annal editions of both The Raleigh Register and Beckley Post-Herald, the Hominy Falls Abundance Disaster Fatal Blow Report, the United States Abundance Accomplishment Association accident summary, and the Audition on the Hominy Falls Abundance Disaster.
This commodity is additionally due in allotment to the efforts of Mike Davis, the son of Frank Davis, and the abetment of columnist Tom Surbaugh, who’s book “Miracle of Hominy Falls” capacity the incident, Digger O’Dell for his acumen and Jennings Lilly who aggregate his experience.
— Email: [email protected]; chase on Twitter @mattcombsRH
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