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The prime minister of Turkey once said that death was destiny for some miners, and he was right. The explosion that killed at least 245 people there was the latest disaster to befall the world’s mines, but not the last, and not even close to the worst.
The distinction belongs to the Honkeiko explosion of 1942, in Japanese-occupied China, when 1,549 miners were killed — so many that it took 10 days to bring all the corpses to the surface. Guards had to put up an electric fence to keep hysterical relatives away.
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The business of tunneling into the earth and sending men down to retrieve coal and minerals and metals has always been deadly. It has also set the stage for some of the more dramatic rescues in human history.
Here are some other notable mining disasters.
The deadliest mining disaster to hit Europe killed 1,099 people and injured hundreds more. Workers tried to seal off a fire inside the mine, at Courrières, but gas leaking from the walls apparently ignited.
Half the men inside died — some suffocated by gas, others crushed or burned to death. A group of the injured made it to the surface almost three weeks later, triggering an outcry that the mine owners had cut rescue efforts short to save money.
A blast inside the Chasnala mine damaged a barrier dividing the mine from a body of water situated directly above it. Almost 50 million gallons of water poured in, trapping and drowning 375 people.
It took pumps from at least three other countries, including the United States and Soviet Union, to remove the water. The first body was recovered only after 26 days. Many of the dead were identifiable only by their head lamp.
West Virginia, 1907
The worst mining accident in American history is believed to have killed 362 people, although the exact number is not known. The blast took out the ventilation systems, planks supporting the underground roof and railcars.
The blast, at a mine in the town of Monongah, has two legacies. One is that it helped lead to the creation of the Bureau of Mines, which regulates safety and was credited in part for a decline in mine deaths.
The other: A woman named Grace Clayton had the idea to set aside a Sunday to pay tribute to the hundreds of fathers who died at Monongah. She picked July 5, 1908, the Sunday nearest her own father’s birthday.
Thus was born Father’s Day — at least according to the nearby town of Fairmont, West Virginia.
(The generally accepted version is that the holiday began in 1910, suggested by a Washington state woman who liked the new idea of Mother’s Day and figured fathers should have a day of their own.)
Thirty-three miners endured what was believed to be the longest underground entrapment in history. They were buried 2,000 feet below ground after part of the mine caved in.
On the 18th day, a rescue drill broke through to the underground refuge of the men, and they attached a note in red ink declaring that they were alive. They became known to the world as Los 33.
After 69 days, and with underground cameras beaming the rescue to the world, they climbed one by one into a capsule known as Phoenix and were pulled to sunlight. “Welcome to life,” the president of Chile told one of them.
West Virginia, 2010
An explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 people in the worst American mining disaster of the last generation. Investigators blamed a buildup of coal dust and methane gas.
Three executives inside Massey Energy, which owned the mine, are serving time, including one who admitted a conspiracy to violate federal mining laws. Some families of the dead want Massey CEO Don Blankenship prosecuted. He has denied wrongdoing.
They could have drowned or suffocated, or died of hypothermia from water all around them: Nine miners were trapped 240 feet underground when they accidentally pierced a barrier between the Quecreek mine and a flooded, abandoned mine next door.
They were trapped for three days, surrounded by water and near choking to death when rescues managed to punch air holes into a mineshaft.
They were ultimately rescued, pulled to safety in a steel capsule not unlike what was used in Chile eight years later. The episode, which was called the Miracle at Quecreek, provided relief for an anxious country and uplift in the summer after the Sept. 11 attacks.
John Unger, one of the rescued, told The Associated Press at the 10th anniversary that he had been given a second chance by God.
“You don’t always get that,” he said. “You think about it every day. It’s what happened. You make the most out of it, and you move on.”
Polly DeFrank of NBC News contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.