Knox Mine disaster

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The Knox Mine disaster occurred in Port Griffith, a town in Jenkins Township, Pennsylvania, near Pittston, on January 22, 1959.

The River Slope Mine, an anthracite coal mine owned by the Knox Coal Company, flooded when coal company management had the miners dig illegally out under the Susquehanna River. Tunneling sharply upwards toward river bed without having drilled boreholes to gauge the rock thickness overhead, the miners came to a section with a thickness of about 6 feet (1.8 m) -- 35 feet (10.6 m) was considered the minimum for safety. The insufficient "roof" cover caused the waters of the river to break into the mine.

It took three days to plug the hole in the riverbed, which was done by dumping large railroad cars, smaller mine cars, culm, and other debris into the whirlpool formed by the water draining into the mine.

Twelve mineworkers died; 69 others escaped. Amadeo Pancotti, was awarded the Carnegie Medal for being the first worker to emerge from the Eagle Air Shaft, which was the only exit available for 33 of those trapped underground. The bodies of the 12 who died were never recovered, despite efforts to pump the water out of the mine.[1]

Safety procedures

According to an op-ed in Citizen's Voice by coal labor historians: "While the immediate blame for the calamity has been rightly placed on the Knox Company and its owners -Louis Fabrizio, John Sciandra, Robert Dougherty, and August J. Lippi - the crucial role of the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PaCC) should not be forgotten. For PaCC decided in the 1930s that the best way to boost profits was to lease coal veins and, eventually, entire collieries to a new breed of entrepreneurial subcontractor. The Knox Company was one such operation. It secured a PaCC lease in 1943, that granted access coal at the Schooley Colliery in Exeter. In 1954, Knox took another lease for sections of the Pittston and Marcy veins at the Ewen Colliery in Port Griffith. The Knox disaster occurred in the Pittston vein when the company ignored the state-sanctioned 'stop lines' and removed the coal in a vein fatally close to the river bed... [A]fter the U.S. Supreme Court, in the famous 'Penn Coal Case' of 1922, held that the coal companies were blameless for any damage caused by surface caving, the hurry was on to remove all the pillars. Who led the charge in the court challenges to the existing laws regarding liability for surface damage? The Pennsylvania Coal Company. Many subcontractors and leaseholders at PaCC were well-known for disregarding mining laws, union-negotiated pay rates, and safety procedures.[2]

Victims

The twelve coal miner victims were:

  • Samuel Altieri
  • John Baloga
  • Benjamin Boyer
  • Francis Burns
  • Charles Featherman
  • Joseph Gizenski
  • Dominick Kaveliskie
  • Frank Orlowski
  • Eugene Ostroski
  • William Sinclair
  • Daniel Stefanides
  • Herman Zelonis


References

  1. Wolensky, Robert P; Kenneth C Wolensky, Nicole H Wolensky (1999). The Knox Mine disaster, January 22, 1959 : the final years of the northern anthracite industry and the effort to rebuild a regional economy. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historial and Museum Commission. ISBN 0-89271-081-0. 
  2. Robert Wolensky and William Hastie, "The Knox Mine Disaster and the Pennsylvania Coal Company," Citizen's Voice, January 21, 2012.

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