This mining accident happened in March 1924 near the town of Castle Gate in the state of Utah, about 90 miles or 140 km from Salt Lake City. All 171 men working below ground were killed, the leader of a rescue crew was also killed after inhaling carbon monoxide fumes while attempting to reach those trapped deep below ground.
A series of three explosions ripped through the mine, which was believed to have been caused when coal dust present in the mine was not correctly damped down by the previous shift. The first blast happened sometime between 8.00am and 8.15 at a distance of about 7,000 feet from the mines entrance. An investigation into gas in a chamber was halted when a miners lamp went out, on attempting to relight the lamp the gas was ignited, that together with the coal dust set off a massive explosion.
The first explosion was so powerful that nearly a mile from its cause on the surface a mining car was launched into the air, telephone poles were uprooted and other equipment was sent across the valley. The steel gates at the mines entrance were ripped out of their cement foundations. Below the surface rails were twisted out of shape and roof support beams were destroyed. Any miners that survived the initial blast had lost the only source of light from their helmets and in attempting to relight these a second explosion occurred, this killed the remainder of those that survived the initial blast. At approximately 20 minutes after this a third explosion resulted in a cave-in deep in the mine.
The recovery of the miners bodies took nine days, identification was only possible in many cases through relatives identifying the clothing. Those that died came from many countries, an indication of the multi-national industry of coal mining in the United States at that time. 50 of those killed were of Greek origin, 25 Italian, 32 English or Scottish, 12 Welsh, 4 came from Japan and 3 from Austria. The youngest to die was just 15, the oldest 73.
Two weeks before the explosion the mining company had laid off a number of its workforce due to a cut in orders. Many of those laid off were single men or those with no dependants. 114 of those killed were married, the disaster left a total of 415 widows and fatherless children. In 1917 Utah State Workmen’s Compensation Fund had been set up and each dependant received $16 each week for the next 6 years. Another relief fund continued to financially aid some dependents until 1936.
After this explosion, Carbon County in Utah had the recognition of suffering the worst and third worst mining disasters in US mining history at that time. The Castle Gate disaster is now the 10th worst in US history, and second in Utah state behind the 1900 Scofield disaster which claimed the lives of 200 miners.