Forty years ago, two coal mine explosions occurred and 26 men died in two mine disasters on March 9, and March 11, 1976, at the Scotia Mine in Oven Fork, KY. The fatalities also included three Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) mine inspectors—Kenneth Kiser, Richard Sammons, and Grover Tussey. This was the largest loss of life among Federal mine inspectors in one single accident in our nation’s history.
The first explosion at approximately 11:45 a.m. on March 9, 1976 and the second at approximately 11:30 p.m. on March 11, 1976, occurred in the 2 Southeast Main area of the Scotia Mine of Scotia Coal Company. All 15 men working in the 2 Southeast Main area at the time of the first explosion died as a result of the explosion. Ninety-one other men in other parts of the mine at that time reached the surface safely.
At the time of the second explosion on March 11, 13 men were underground near the entrance of 2 Southeast Main and 11 died as a result of the explosion. The fatalities included the three MESA mine inspectors—Kiser, Sammons, and Tussey.
Investigators concluded that the first explosion originated near the number 31 crosscut in 2 Southeast Main when a mixture of methane and air was ignited by an electric arc or spark from a battery-powered locomotive. Forces of the explosion spread to nearby sections of the underground mine.
The second explosion originated near the entrance to 2 Southeast Main when a methane/air mixture was ignited by one of several nearby sources.
After the two explosions, all parties concurred that the chance of another explosion was too great to permit anyone to enter the mine and reached a consensus decision to seal the mine on the surface.
This disaster helped spur legislative action in the form of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. Under that legislation, MESA would evolve into the current Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), two years later on March 9, 1978.