January 2, 2006: Sago Mine Explosion Kills 12 Miners
An explosion at the Sago mine in Upshur County killed 12 men on January 2, 2006. The initial methane blast at 6:30 a.m. killed one worker. Twelve men sought refuge from the carbon monoxide fumes, but 11 men were dead by the time rescuers reached them 41 hours later.
Information from rescuers underground became scrambled by the time it reached the surface, however. Mining officials believed that they heard that all 12 miners survived. Gathered at the Sago Baptist Church nearby were family members who heard the erroneous information and celebrated the survival of their loved ones. News agencies picked up the story and spread it worldwide. Three hours later, mining officials announced that 11 men were dead. Only one miner, Randal McCloy Jr., survived the disaster.
The mine, located near Buckhannon, was owned by International Coal Group. The company and two state agencies later concluded that a lightning blast likely ignited the methane inside the mine, but the United Mine Workers blamed the explosion on friction between rocks or between rocks and metal supports. The Sago accident was followed within months by several other fatal coal mining accidents, including one other in West Virginia. Two miners were killed in Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County three weeks after the Sago disaster. The fatal accidents spurred a flurry of new laws and tougher regulations. The Sago mine was reopened a few months after the fatal explosion, but International Coal Group later decided to seal the mine.