Mine disaster stirs memories
By BILL HENDRICK
Associated Press Writer
HELL FOR CERTAIN. Ky. (AP) - It was cold and dismal, the ground was frozen, and snow covered the roads when the bodies of 38 men killed in one of Kentucky's worst mining disasters were recovered nearly six years ago.
George Wooten, 60, was chief executive officer of Leslie County then.
He sees parallels between that tragedy and the state's most recent mining disaster, which killed 26 men last March at Oven Fork.
Eleven men died last March ll in an explosion in Scotia Coal Co.’s No. I mine at Oven Fork — two days after 15 men were killed in a blast in the same area of the pit.
The bodies of the first 15 victims were brought out but the dead of the second blast were left inside and the shaft was sealed.
It was reopened July 14 and recovery teams have been inching toward the bodies 34 miles inside the mountain since then.
The bodies are located about 1,000 feet beneath the surface of Big Black Mountain at Oven Fork.
Officials believe the bodies will be recovered some time next month. Wooten, who notes that Hell For Certain, like Oven Fork and many- other tiny mountain hamlets, is "just a place, not really a town," says memories of the explosion that killed 38 men in a mine at nearby Hyden on Dec. 30,1970 are still vivid here in the hills of southeastern Kentucky.
And each time there is news about the Scotia victims, the memories become more vivid, he said.
"There are parallels," Wooten said in an interview "It s an awfully bad time to dig graves for anybody. It’s a problem we faced, and they’ll have to face it, but the people, they’ll manage."
Wooten, who served as Leslie County judge from 1962 until 1974, said it took about 24 hours to recover the victims of the explosion at the Finley Bros. mine at Hyden.
The fact that the bodies were recovered and the men buried in a short time helped end the ordeal more quickly for their relatives, and Wooten said he feels sorry for the widows and survivors of the 11 men whose bodies remain inside the Scotia mine.
"It think it will help the community and the people that have parents, brothers, their kids or friends in there, when they get the bodies out," Wooten said. "Just like anybody, people, all the families, sure want to see their bodies recovered if possible, that’s the way the people feel. I think, over at the Scotia mine.”
In any coal mine such as the one at Oven Fork, "it’s always a possibility they may never get them out," Wooten said.
As county judge. Wooten, who plans to run for the same office again next year, was in charge of coordinating the recovery operation at the Hyden mine.
He said the community came together after that disaster and that “I think that’ll happen down in Letcher County too.”