Knox Mine Disaster

Jack Scanella photo.

At around 11:30 AM on January 22, 1959, the Susquehanna river broke through the thin rock roof of the River Slope Mine, Knox Coal Company. The hole became an estimated 150 feet in diameter, funneling in 10 million gallons of water and ice like a bathtub drain. By the afternoon, plans to seal the breach were already in effect. One of the railroad tracks above were cut and bent towards the river. Over 50 hopper cars were pushed into the breach by a diesel locomotive from Pittston. Over 400 mine cars were dumped over the bank into the hole but the water just kept rushing right in. Thousands of bails of hay and hundreds of railroad ties were also added. Culm, dirt, and rock were also added, but barely stopped the river. Finally, they diverted the river around Wintermoot Island by building dams at both ends of the island. Once they pumped the water out between the dams they were able to begin sealing the hole. Tons of clay and rock were poured into the hole and a concrete cap was placed on top of the opening. They then pumped much of the water out of the mine to look for the remaining 12 missing miners. No bodies were ever recovered.

How could this tragedy have happened? The original plan was to keep 50 feet of rock and coal between the workings and the river bottom. The Knox company wanted this to be lowered to 35 feet. Mine inspectors deemed this ok as it would be sufficient to stand up to the river. At this point the seam of coal sloped up towards the river in a geological formation known as an anticline. Company owners kept pushing the miners closer and closer to the river bottom until the rock could no longer support the river. At the point where the river broke through the rock was only 5 to 6 feet thick! This disaster ended deep mining in the Wyoming valley as almost all of the coal company’s mines connected.

Photos from the day of the disaster, showing railcars dumped off the diverted Lehigh Valley line in an attempt to fill the void.

May and Hoyt Shafts, the first means of escape for the survivors, until cut off by rising water.

Eagle Air Shaft, the last means of escape found by Joe Stella and Myron Thomas.

Photos after the disaster from the US Bureau of Mines and Carl Orechovsky, showing pumps installed to dewater the mine.

Photos showing mine inspection, looking for the 12 missing men. Showing smashed railcars inside the mine, and muddy conditions left.

Our photos from the early 2000s showing the bottom of a railcar which ended up down river, because the hopper doors were left closed, making it float.