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45th Anniversary of Consolidation Coal's Farmington Mine No. 9 Explosion
Written by Jared Pelletier
Last updated on November 20, 2013 @ 7:50PM
Created on November 20, 2013 @ 6:57PM

Tuesday marked the 45th year since West Virginia experienced one of the worst tragedies in mining history, an explosion at Consolidation Coal's No. 9 Mine in Farmington.

The first explosion on November 20, 1968 was felt miles away.

David Bienkoski is a retired miner who started working shortly after the incident in 1968. He said, "You have to remember these men for the sacrifices they and their families gave."

78 miners lost their lives. Carlos Tarley was at basic training when he heard that his brother was in the mine that day. He said the news was devastating.

"I came home and for eleven days we watched the shafts hoping they'd bring somebody out. If you've never gone through an experience like that you don't understand how sad that is," said Tarley.

There were multiple explosions and the fire was still burning ten days later. Then the mine was sealed shut in order to put the fire out. This tragedy led to historical health and safety changes for the mining industry.

"It's sad to say in this day and age, but all mining safety laws have either been written with death or someone's blood," said retired miner Mark Dorsey.

"Those men that died there were all heroes," said Bienkoski.

The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 went into effect as a result of what happened. It laid the groundwork for increased safety standards and penalties for violations.

Many miners are saying they they owe a lot to the victims because their sacrifice made the entire industry better.

"It really improved the working conditions of the men working in the mines tremendously," said Bienkoski.

The mine was opened back up so recovery efforts could continue. It was sealed for good in 1978. There were 19 men who were never found.

The exact cause of the blast was never determined, but investigators indicated poor ventilation and coal dust were contributing factors. Miners claim this is a tragic event they will never forget.

"If you let things go you don't remember and you will fall back into that rut. We will never forget, we'll always move forward," said Dorsey.

There was a service held on Sunday at the sight of the No. 9 Mine Memorial in Mannington. Hundreds of people turned out to pay their respects.

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