Hillcrest Mine Explosion 1914

19/06/1914 - Hillcrest - Explosion / Gas Explosion, Coal Dust Explosion, Methane Explosion

On June 19, 1914, shortly after 9 a.m., the village of Hillcrest was changed forever. 235 men had entered the Hillcrest Coal Mine for the morning shift, but 189 did not make it out alive. An explosion ripped through the mine.

Nine days after the explosion, World War I broke out. Operations at Hillcrest mine continued until 1939.

Work had started as normal that morning. At 9:00 a.m., eight more miners passed through the lamphouse to enter the mine. The timekeeper, Robert Hood, detected the smell of liquor on the breath of two of them and turned them away but, by mistake he put their checks on the board. This action later lead to confusion as to how many miners were in the mine.

Meanwhile, fireboss Sam Charleton had laid charges near Old Level One (Hillcrest Mine actually consisted of two mines -- Mine Number One and Mine Number Two each with their separate entrances and linked together by tunnels -- see map below). At 9:30 a.m., it was later determined, Sam Charleton had been just about to fire the charges when there was a huge gas explosion very close to him. This initial explosion stirred up coal dust which then spontaneously triggered a second and maybe a third blast.

The force of the multiple explosions travelling along the labyrinth of tunnels was horrific -- with anyone near the source, like Sam Charleton, being killed outright. Even men working on the surface were not spared: the young rope-riders -- Charles Ironmonger (the son of Charles Eli Ironmonger), who worked at Mine Number One and Fred Kurigatz, who worked at Mine Number Two, were both killed.

The entrance to Mine Number One, which was closer to the source of the explosion than Mine Number Two's entrance, was jammed up so much debris that it was impassable. Three men -- George Wild, Antonio Stella and Arthur Crowther -- who had been working near the less-damaged entrance of Mine Number Two managed to escape from the mine within the first few minutes. A trickle of survivors followed them, but by time fifteen crucial minutes had passed, the total count of survivors was only 19 -- all the others were trapped down below.

This accident claimed the lives of 189 people.