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Sunshine Mine Disaster

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the day that changed the mining industry forever. 

Sunshine mine disastershowing two survivors

Tom Wilkerson, left, and Ron Flory, right, the men who survived after being trapped for a week after the Sunshine Mine Fire in May of 1972.

On Tuesday, May 2, 1972, at about 11:40 a.m., a fire broke out at the Sunshine Mine in Kellogg, Idaho. Smoke and carbon monoxide quickly filled the area in which the majority of the 173 miners were working. At 12:03 p.m., an evacuation was ordered after mine managers were unable to pinpoint the location of the fire. Ninety-one men perished due to carbon monoxide exposure, 80 escaped, and only two were rescued after a week of being entombed about 1,600 meters underground.  

At that point in history, the Sunshine Mine fire was the largest disaster in the hard-rock mining industry since the 1917 mine fire at the Speculator Mine in Montana. The Sunshine fire exposed weaknesses in the administrative setup of the safety and health program for metal and nonmetal miners and, as a result, served as the catalyst for the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act). To this day, the Mine Act still governs MSHA activities and has substantially decreased the number of mining fatalities. 

Today we remember and honor the miners who lost their lives in this tragic event, and we remain committed to our mission to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and promote safe and healthy workplaces for the industry’s greatest resource - miners.