On January 22, 1959, a mining accident occurred when workers were ordered to illegally dig under the Susquehanna River without property safety equipment or precautions.
The Know Coal Company owned the mine, and the company management ordered the miners to mine up toward the riverbed without having drilled boreholes to gauge the rock thickness overhead. However, Federal, State, and County authorities discovered there were safety concerns months prior and ordered the digging of this vein to stop.
The Knox company disregarded the instructions and instructed the miners to continue digging up toward the riverbed. The minimum width of land recommended between the mine and the river was 35 feet for safety concerns, and in this particular situation, the depth was only 6 feet.
The roof broke and caused the water or the river to break into the mine.
“I no more than put my foot in the place and looked up then the roof gave way. It sounded like thunder. Water poured down like Niagara Falls,” testified John Williams.
It had created a hole in the riverbed, which caused the river to flood into other interconnected mines in the Wyoming Valley between the town of Exeter and Port Griffith—resulting in 12 miners dying.
It took three days to fix the problem and plug the hole, which was done by dumping large railroad cars, mine cars, culm, and debris into the whirlpool formed by water draining into the mine. An estimated 10 billion gallons of water filled the mines. It also altered the west-side flow of the Susquehanna and created several new islands between the two towns.
Twelve of the miners died, and the other 69 escaped. The bodies of those who died in the mine were never recovered despite efforts to recover.
The head of the Knox administration as well as the Pennsylvania Coal Company were indicted for mining and labor law violations, conspiracy, and manslaughter. However, due to bribes and appeals, none of the men who were responsible for the incident were held responsible. They were convicted of income tax evasion and paid minimal fines, serving minor jail sentences and probation.
In the end, it revealed the fraudulent activity of the Northeastern coal industry was the reformation of the coal industry as Pennsylvania knows today.