In the predawn hours of November 20, 1968, a massive explosion ripped through the Consolidation Coal Company’s Number 9 mine near Farmington. Twenty-one miners were able to escape. But another 78 were trapped inside.
At first, the intense heat from the fire kept rescuers out of the mine. When they finally got inside, the mine was unstable, and officials feared another explosion. After nine days, the mine was sealed as a safety precaution with all 78 miners still inside. It was reopened a year later. Most of the bodies were recovered, but 19 were never found.
The 78 deaths make Farmington the deadliest U.S. coal mine disaster of the last 50 years. It led to passage of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which was shepherded through Congress by West Virginia Representative Ken Hechler. The law placed strict rules on mine roof supports and ventilation. In addition, it allowed federal inspectors to close down any unsafe mine.
The Farmington mine disaster also deepened a growing rift within the United Mine Workers when union president Tony Boyle defended Consolidation Coal immediately after the explosion.