No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster by Bonnie E. Stewart, West Virginia University Press, 289 pages. Hardcover, $27.99.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A massive number of internal company reports and charts, government inspections and verbal and written complaints from working miners predicted the possibility of a disastrous explosion at Consolidation Coal's No. 9 mine, located between Mannington and Farmington in Marion County.
If coal company officials had paid attention to those warnings, and if state and federal inspectors had performed their jobs more vigorously, 78 miners may well not have lost their lives on Nov. 20, 1968.
In a series of explosions that morning, smoke poured out of the mine after methane and coal dust exploded underground in one of the most dramatic mine disasters in American history.
Bonnie E. Stewart, a reporter and West Virginia University journalism professor, offers a riveting and detailed account of events leading to that tragedy in her new book, "No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster."
Consol bought the No. 9 Mine, which had been operating since 1910, shortly before 27 miners died in an explosion on Nov. 13, 1954.
Stewart tells stories about several miners who quit because they had become so afraid for their safety and lives.
Having worked underground for 30 years, and at Consol No. 9 since 1956, Ancle<co> B. Morris quit just one week before the explosion.
"Morris said he reported numerous serious problems to both the safety committee and [section foreman] Foster Turner, but little changed. The week before the mine exploded, he reached his limit," Stewart writes.
In a chapter called "Warning Signs," Stewart details safety problems detected and reported by miners during days immediately before the disaster.
Stanley Plachta, a member of the local United Mine Workers Safety Committee, became so concerned he called the state Department of Mines on Nov. 19, one day before the explosion. Plachta, a mine mechanic, was not working on the shift when the explosion took place.
"He was discouraged by the way the company handled the safety committee's complaints," Stewart writes.
State and federal safety inspectors routinely failed to cite serious violations prior to the tragedy.
"Federal officials inspected the mine five times in 1967 and 1968," Stewart writes. But they "did not cite the mine for any ventilation violations," including the failure to stop mining coal when ventilation fans shut down.
Testimony later confirmed the fan system at Consol No. 9 "malfunctioned and ventilation laws were broken on a regular basis."
Federal mine safety officials refused to release their final reports about the disaster until 1990 -- 22 years after the tragedy.
Pressure from the United Mine Workers and J. Davitt McAteer, a former head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, forced the federal report's release.