Worst Mining Disasters In Human History

The threat of mine collapses, explosions, floods, and mineral dust damaging one's lungs are always at the back of the minds of miners all over the world.
The threat of mine collapses, explosions, floods, and mineral dust damaging one's lungs are always at the back of the minds of miners all over the world.

Any fatal accident is definitely a tragedy, and if one occurs in mines, as in other fields with a high level of inherent occupational hazard risks, then it can become seriously eye-opening for those in the industry, as well as for outsiders. We now look through a list of the most heart-wrenching accidents that have happened in various mines worldwide through the years.

10. Chasnala coal mine, Dhanbad, India, December 1975 (372 deaths)

On the 27th of December, 1975, the Chasnala colliery in Dhanbad was where an explosion inside a mine caused the water tank above it to flood its shafts, and in the process kill around 372 miners. So, in addition to the full blast of the coal dust, there was also the additional problem of the mine becoming flooded and drowning the trapped miners in it. This has been the second most dangerous mining accident to have ever been recorded in India.

9. Wankie Coal Mine, Hwange, Zimbabwe, June 1972 (426 deaths)

On the 6th of June, 1972, a dynamite blast was suspected to have fueled this disaster, which caused the death of 426 miners. The entire shaft was filled with gas, causing miners to panic as they died due to suffocation. The first of the blasts in the coal mine killed four people who were on the surface near the mine entrance as well.

8. Coalbrook colliery, Clydesdale, South Africa, January 1960 (435 deaths)

On the 21st of January, 1960, tragedy struck the Coalbrook colliery in Clydesdale, South Africa. On that day, around 900 underground pillars throughout the coal mine became loose and fell apart, thereby even loosening the very supports to the roof of the mine. Around 435 miners died, making this one of the worst mining tragedies to ever happen in Africa. Though many of the miners managed to escape death by hair’s breadth, many others remained trapped and died.

7. Senghenydd Colliery, Caerphilly, Wales, UK, October 14, 1913 (440 deaths)

On the 14th of October, 1913, 440 miners died when a coal dust explosion rocked the Welsh Senghenydd mine. The Universal Colliery at Wales was the place where this accident occurred, and to this date this event is considered as one of the most severe disasters to occur in a in mining area in the United Kingdom. A firedamp ignition, which sent sparks coming out of it, soon turned out to be fatal when a fire on the floor of the coal mine led to a massive inferno. It killed many people working there, even those not directly engulfed by the flames, due to the presence and buildup of poisonous carbon monoxide gases from the fire.

6. Mitsui Miike Coal Mine, Fukuoka, Japan, November 1963 (458 deaths)

Another serious coal mine disaster that struck Japan was at the Mitsui Miike Coal mine in Fukuoka. A coal dust explosion ocurred underground, and led to a series of massive explosions that crumbled the coal mine at successive points throughout its tunnels on the 9th of November, 1963, killing 458 people in its wake. Though the coal dust blast happened relatively far from the entrance to the mine, the force was such that it had broken the pillars and the entire set up that held the mine roof and walls, causing disaster on a remarkable scale. This disaster is considered as one of the most infamous ones in the history of mining in Japan. In fact, many of the miners who did not die from the methane explosion continued to live with brain damage and other related issues for years later.

5. Hawks Nest Tunnel silica mine, West Virginia, USA, 1931 (476 deaths)

During the construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel, the construction workers were asked to mine the silica deposits from the tunnel, and in the process using practically no safety measures. The silica deposits began congesting these men's lungs and caused breathing problems. It was then found that these miners had become affected by silicosis and damaging their airways. Many died and, in 1931, the count stood at 476 of these miners having had died from silicosis and related complications. Though the inspectors and supervisors who visited the spot during the tunnel’s construction were always known to have their masks and have safety measures in place, the safety of those poor miners working under them had been neglected, resulting in these major losses.

4. Sumitomo Besshi bronze mine, Shikoku, Japan, 1899 (512 deaths)

In 1899, around 512 people died due to a debris flow at the Sumitomo Besshi bronze mine, in Shikoku, Japan. The tragedy occurred due to a landslide, which was quite common in mining areas of those days, when erosion control and ensuring structural support were often overlooked completely. The debris from the sliding land flowed down the area, killing everyone caught up in the flow. This was one of the most serious occupational accidents of any kind to ever have rocked Japan, at least among those ever to be recorded there.

3. Laobaidong colliery, Datong, China, May 1960 (682 deaths)

On the 9th of May, 1960, 682 people died amidst a mining disaster that happened in China. At Laobaidong colliery, located in Datong, a methane gas explosion took the lives of these miners, and this accident has been listed as the second most tragic and disastrous mining accident in Chinese history. This tragedy, and its seriously startling death toll numbers, had not been made public knowledge for many years until the 1990s, when the Chinese government released the records of it. Even to this very day, this explosion is considered one of the most serious accidents to have occurred in China, second only to that at Benxihu which had occurred several years before.

2. Courrieres Coal Mine, Courrieres, France, March 1906 (1,099 deaths)

One of the most grotesque mining accidents to ever be recorded in Europe has to be this one, which occurred in Courrieres, France and killed 1,099 people. Early in the morning on the 10th of March, 1906, a gas explosion happened, fueling a series of blasts through the entire mine. The tragedy had am even more powerful and tragic impact yet because, among the dead, there were many children and women who had been living in a settlement situated above the shafts that had exploded. The elevators that had blasted out of the coal mine had scores of dead miners within them as well. A gas explosion was ascertained to have been the main reason for this event.

1. Benxihu colliery, Liaoning, China, April 1942 (1,549 deaths)

A gas and coal dust explosion was the culprit behind this disaster at the infamous Benxihu colliery, in Liaoning, China. The underground gas explosion took place on the 26th of April, 1942. Around 1,549 miners died, mostly due to suffocation resulting from breathing in carbon monoxide. It took ten days for the dead bodies of the miners to be brought up out from the coal mines wherein they had died. This was at a time when the invading Japanese Imperial Army had taken control over major parts of China, and Benxihu colliery was also under their rule. The Japanese forces used pressure to exert the men to work extremely hard, and often overlooked their safety in the process. That said, the exact number of the deaths that occurred during this explosion were not made public until much later.


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