Mining has come a long way with regards to safety. But sadly, we still lose too many of our mining family to tragedies. These men and women of mining put their lives on the line daily. All to provide vital minerals, hard rock, metals, and rare earth metals that have become vital to our lives.
Because I specialize recruiting into mining, I know that safety is synonymous with mining. Some of these disasters were caused by a pure accident; some alleged negligence, and others by safety violations.
This is a somber post, but a very important one to remind us that our lives can change in the blink of an eye.
Here are 5 mining tragedies that the world has not forgotten:
The Vale Tailings Dam Collapse – Brazil
Vale Mining is the world’s largest iron ore producer. They burst into the headlines in January of 2019, with reports of catastrophic failure of one of their tailings dams. 154 people were buried alive in toxic mud and a total of 243 lost their lives, as the sludge flowed 5 miles downhill traveling through neighborhoods and covering farmland. This was the second dam break within three years for Vale. As a result, their stock price plummetted and it set the stage for Brazilian Prosecutors to consider filing criminal charges against them.
Sago Mine Collapse – Sago, WV
On January 2, 2006, the town of Sago, West Virginia was changed forever. On that fateful day, 12 Miners lost their lives when a blast ripped through the mine trapping 13 employees in the 2 Left Parallel Section. The ventilation controls were damaged by the explosion and the men attempted to barricade the No. 3 Face. The incident garnered worldwide attention and became worse when officials at the mine released incorrect information. Subsequently, news outlets reported incorrectly that there were 12 survivors. When in fact, there was one survivor and twelve fatalities.
The Hillcrest Mine – Canada
The town of Hillcrest experienced the world’s third worst mining disaster of the time on June 19, 1914. Unfortunately, 235 men entered the mine that fateful morning and 189 would not return home; about half the workforce. The blast ripped through the mine a little after 9 AM. Only 17 of the 189 men who lost their lives were born in Canada; the remainder were immigrants who were looking to make new lives for themselves and their families. Many of the miners were buried in a mass grave at the Hillcrest Cemetery and 9 days later World War I began. After that, attention quickly shifted from the disaster in Hillcrest.
The Sunshine Mine – Kellogg, ID
Deep in the heart of Silver Valley of Kellogg, ID lies the Sunshine Mine, one of the most prosperous mines in the Silver Valley. On the fated day of May 2, 1972, 173 workers headed out to start work approximately 3,700 feet underground. A few hours into the shift, two employees noticed smoke and shouted out a warning to the other miners. Soon after, the toxic smoke overtook the miners. While many were able to make it out safely, 91 did not.
The small community was devastated at the loss of their friends, family, and neighbors. The cause of the fire was never found. Every year on May 2nd, people gather for the Miner’s Day Ceremony to honor and remember those who lost their lives that fateful day.
Granite Mountain – Butte, MT
On the eve of June 8, 1917, 410 men were underground working their night shift at Granite Mountain. In an unfortunate chain of events, a carbide lamp set fire to an armored power cable, which quickly spread to a flammable oiled fabric. Then, the blaze caught the shaft timbers on fire. As a result, the mine rapidly filled with smoke and gas as the workers scrambled to escape. Out of the 410 men, 247 were able to escape, while sadly 163 perished. In the end, it took 8 days of concentrated efforts to contain the fire and rescue the victims.
The first priority and concern of all in the mining industry must be the health and safety of our most precious resource, the miner. – Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.
The People of Mining have heart and soul. I know, because I talk to them every single day in my line of work. Memorials are to honor the fallen and recognize the risks that these brave men and women make every day. In recognition, Congress has designated December 6th as National Miner’s Day to honor the sacrifices of miners past and present.