doc martens fashion Ceremony honors 1963 mine disaster victims survivors
Clark jokes that he has a hard time remembering what happened the day before yesterday, but the tragic events of Aug. 27, 1963 are still fresh in his mind.
Fifty years to the day after one of the worst mining disasters in Utah history, Clark joined two other survivors and dozens of others to remember the victims of the Cane Creek Mine explosion.
The incident at Texas Gulf Sulphur’s potash mine, which was then under construction about 20 miles west of Moab, claimed the lives of 18 miners. Seven men who were on the afternoon shift, including co speakers Donald “Blake” Hanna and Paul McKinney, survived.
This week, Clark told a packed crowd at the Grand County Public Library that he and his co workers had descended more than 2,700 feet below the surface that afternoon to work on a roof bolting project.
He knew that something was wrong, and his instincts guided him to move as quickly as he could.
He and his co workers boarded a shuttle car and rode it upward.
They could see the carbon monoxide laden smoke coming toward them, and as they milled about deciding what they should do, it settled around the group.
Some of them men grabbed scraps of cloth, which they dipped in a bucket of water and then wrapped around their mouths, Clark said.
A group of the miners moved on ahead and hung a curtain from some wire at the top of a tunnel, but Clark said they didn’t do a very good job of sealing it. They kept going beyond that first makeshift barricade, sucking in their diaphragms and clenching their teeth as they traveled through the deadly vapors.
“When you were up there in that smoke, the only thing you could think about was getting a breath of air,” Clark said.
Eventually, they installed another barricade that kept the fumes at bay.
Hanna previously received training to install barricades, and he said he did just about everything he’d been taught not to do.
“I had no choice,” he said.
In the meantime, Clark said, his group could hear other survivors of the blast coughing and choking on the smoke behind them.
Hanna said he tried everything he could to save the men, yet three of them refused to join him. McKinney was the last man he asked, and the two of them made it to temporary safety.
“We had our guardian angels with us,” Hanna said.
His greatest sorrow, however, is the memory of the men who survived the blast, yet stayed where they were.
Hanna said he argued with one of the men, but he wouldn’t budge.
“He would not have anything to do with it,” Hanna said.
It turned out that the air behind the barricade was breathable, and the seven remaining men reached the consensus that they should stay in place. But they also knew that the air line was busted, and that someone had to fix it.
The men tried to rest for a while, but conditions inside the barricaded area were challenging.
By McKinney’s estimates, temperatures after the explosion soared to somewhere between 132 to 138 degrees Fahrenheit.
At first, they divided roughly five gallons of water from a bucket seven ways. Their only other source of water came from a two inch pipe.
McKinney said that water was as black as coffee, and he feared that they might die of ptomaine poisoning if they drank it. But ultimately, they overcame those fears out of desperation.
“We drank it because we had to drink it,” McKinney said.
Some time passed before McKinney and Hanna set off to repair the air line.
Neither man was in good shape by the time they were done.
McKinney was injured when his battery leaked acid on to him, and Hanna was temporarily blinded as he worked on the pipes.
Once they repaired the damages, they were thoroughly exhausted. But they kept going, and eventually, they spotted a rescue crew that had descended to fix an air vent.