Little Witness

A mile into Carbonado’s Pacific Coast coal mine, some 1500 feet below the surface, miners were working the Douty seam on the early evening of Saturday April 12, 1930. At the signal 17 men from the afternoon shift retreated from chute #5 and took cover to let a set explosive charge go off. Crouched in the dark they could not have realized that the entire shaft had filled with coal gas. In the instant that followed one of the worst mining disasters in Pacific Northwest history unfolded in a blinding flash taking every life. By the time rescuers with gas masks were able to reach the scene it was a hellish underworld of dust, smoke, coal cinder and ash and little else.
The next day, Sunday April 13, Chief State Mine Inspector William R. Reese and a group of authorities entered the mine to begin an investigation and then emerged to answer reporter’s questions and pose for news photographers. One of those photographers noticed five year old Phyllis Bates skipping rope in front of her nearby home. Her father, 31 year old John Bates was one of the causalities of the explosion and it was her uncle Harry Bates that recovered his brother’s body. Standing there in front of a picket fence looking at the grim seriousness of these men with lanterns and headlamps, she probably wondered what they were looking for down in the blackness and then went back to her little flights. Hard times.

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