Throne’s Account of the Sheppton Mine Disaster

Throne Tells How He and Fellin Survived Entombment

Hallucianations, Deliriums, Despair, Jubilation

Editor’s Note: In August of 1963, miners Henry Throne, David Fellin and Louis Bova were trapped more than 300 feet underground when the Sheppton mine collapsed. Throne and Fellin were rescued after spending two weeks underground. Bova was never found. This is Throne’s account of the story, as he told it to the Associated Press. It was originally published in the August 23, 1963 edition of The Pottsville REPUBLICAN

By Henry Throne
As told to the Associated Press

Hazleton — There were times when we saw people that weren’t there and lights that weren’t there and doors that weren’t there.

Imagine seeing a door like a regular house down in the bottom of a mine!

There was a time we heard rain and it really was rain coming down the drainage pipes and we thought the water would back up and flood the mine and drown us.

And while it was raining, I got mad-I must’ve been off my rocker a little-I yelled at Davey, “Davey, I’m coming home. I’m going alone if you don’t want to come.”

But, of course, I wasn’t going anywhere. Not then. We were still more than 300 feet down. We still had a week to go before we could stand and walk again, not just sit and crawl, before we could breath clear air again and see real light again.

Got mixed up later

But maybe I better start at the beginning. That’s the only way I can get it clear in my own mind. So much got mixed up later we couldn’t tell day from the night or Monday from Sunday.

That first day, Aug. 13, I went to work about 7:15 in the morning. It was a nice sunny day. I had no special thoughts, no hunches about something bad. It was just an ordinary working day.

We-that’s Dave Fellin, Louis Bova and me-we got down in the hole about 7:30 and by 8 we had filled the first buggy (a small wagon, carrying coal to the surface). We were on the bottom of the mine, in a tunnel, where the sump water collects. Davey and I were on the right side of the shaft and Louis was on the left, separated by the buggy tracks.

Buggy was Coming Back

Louis rapped three times for the buggy to go up and dumped the coal. Coming down, it got only half way down. That’s when the big rumble started. And all hell broke loose. The timbers on the wall next to us caved in and the timbers on the ceiling above us came down. We just managed to step aside in time as the big chunks of wood and coal and stone fell wildly around us.

We could see Louis on the other side until the power line to our work lights broke. For the next couple of hours we could see a little around us with the lights on our helmets. But then they burned out. Our matches wouldn’t burn down there. That was the end of the light for the next five and a-half days. In the first hour and a half, we just sat there against the wall while the debris piled higher before us in the tunnel. The rumbling from the cave-in lasted that long. There were others later.

Louis Didn’t Answer

I hollered for Louis but there was no answer. After a while we started crawling over the debris, all our tools-the picks, the bars, the shovels, and our lunch pails-were lost under the pile except for a mason hammer and a hatchet. The hammer broke soon afterward. All we had was the hatchet to cut our way over the junk.

We started crawling around in the dark looking for a way out. But we kept crawling around like that for most six days looking for a way out.

To keep warm, I’d sit with my legs spread and Davey would sit between my legs with his back to me and I’d breathe on his back and neck. All the time we’re rocking back and forth, also to keep warm. Then Davey would switch and do the same for me. We’d do this for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Then we’d stop but only for five minutes, say, because then we’d be cold again. Most times it felt like about 30 degrees above zero.

Slept Arms About Other

To keep warm, we’d sleep face to face with our arms around each other. We’d sleep maybe half an hour and then the cold would wake us and we’d start rocking again to get some circulation. I’d sleep, I’d wake up, and I’d see all kinds of light and the actual figures of people. They now tell me these were hallucinations but the crazy thing is that Davey would see the same things I did.

The lights and the figures always were in front of us but the more we crawled toward them the further away they got. For example, I saw this man, or the dark shape of a man with a light on his helmet. I yelled, “Show me some light over here! Over here!” Davey saw him too, but the shape of the man got smaller and smaller as we crawled toward him and then he was gone altogether.

Fifth Day The Worst

The fifth day was the worst. I think that was the closest we came to death. That’s when it started raining and we could hear it coming down the drainage pipes and we thought we’d be drowned. Thank God it rained only about 20 minutes.

But in that time I started running around wild. That’s when I saw a door, just like a regular house door.

“Davey!” I yelled, “let’s go there.”

I crawled as fast as I could toward it but suddenly I found myself bumping into just another piece of timber. That’s when I got the bruise under my eye.

I was so frightened, I just went about getting out and just concentrating on that.

Ate Bark From Timber

But suddenly early in the sixth day, suddenly I got hungry. I ate some bark from an old timber. It tasted terrible. Other times we just sucked the water out of the bark.

In the first few days I could tell, looking at my fourescent watch, what day it was. But down there in the dark I got all mixed up about morning and night and finally the days themselves.

On about 3:15 of probably the sixth day — don’t ask me if it was a.m. or p.m. — I heard Louis holler out. This was the first and only time we heard him. He yelled “Davey and Hank. Where are you? This is Louis, I got a light. I’ll drop it five feet in front of you.”

Couldn’t Find Him

It sounded like it was coming from above. Now, this was real. I’ll admit other things were imagined. But this was real. I actually heard Louis. But we couldn’t find him or his light. And we never heard him again.

What kept us going down there? I can only guess, It must have been our will power, our strong wish to get out. We prayed two or three times an hour “Dear Lord, help us get out, help us get out,” I said aloud over and over.

By about the sixth day, I figure now, we were just about where we started when we began looking for a way out. We were now in a chamber about six feet long and six feet wide and almost six feet high on the high side. We kept shoring up the ceiling with timber and as we did the ceiling kept getting lower until in the last day we had only 18 inches between our heads and the roof of the tunnel.

Microphone Dropped Down

Then suddenly on the sixth day came the miracle. We hadn’t heard the first drill coming down. First thing we knew a microphone was dropped down a hole near us. We heard voices yelling our names from above.

We crawled as fast as we could over the debris to the mike hanging from the first six-inch hole. We kept yelling, “here we come, here we come,” as we crawled over to that hole.

Upon the surface they asked us what we needed and soon we got clothes and hamburgers and soup and coffee. We weren’t cheering yet. We were far from certain of getting out then because so far only a six-inch hole had reached us.

Lights Come Next

Work lights were lowered on a cord. Later they sent us flashlights.

The first hole was just for food and communications. The next day they started drilling a 12-inch hole. We could hear it above. But this drill hit a sulphur ball-that’s as hard as a diamond-so they quit trying in this post.

The next day we could hear them drilling again and they got deep enough but they missed us on direction.

They moved the drill a few feet and this time, thank God, they reached us with the first 12-inch hole, the first escape hole.

This was 10 days and 6 and a half hours after the cave-in trapped us.

We could hear the drill coming all the way down. It felt like it was coming directly at my head. And suddenly there it was, busting through, just about two or three feet away.

This time we cheered. This time we shook hands. Now for the first time I was beginning to feel optimistic.

They sent us heating pads (powered by an electric line from above) and one sleeping bag. One of us would work while the other slept. They sent us timbers and boards and nails and we kept shoring up our ceiling.

We were working 14-16 hours a day. We were exhausted but we felt like signing. I remember singing “Mona Lisa” and S”outh of the Border” and “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling.”

And now it was Monday, Aug. 26. It was 6:01 p.m. and they told us and the big reamer that was widening the hole to 18 inches was only six inches over us. Twenty minutes later that big gorgeous reamer broke through. I yelled up “Send us a line down. I’m coming up!”

The Day of Rescue

Finally, the coveralls and harnesses came down and we put them on. I greased Davey’s shoulders and arms and hips and he did the same for me.

And now it was 2 a.m. and I was being hauled up slowly. They stopped me two or three times and it seemed forever. Then they started again and I was spinning. Finally, there is was — the surface, the air, the people.

As the air hit me, I felt dizzy and fell into that basket-type stretcher. I was thinking I’m out now, I’m out now, and I cried for the first time.

While I was down there they asked me if I’d go back to work in the mines and I said I would. But I’m not. I guess I’m afraid. I’ll work anywhere except a mine.

Until now, I never went to church more than a couple of times in my life.

Now I’ll go regular.

I want to keep thanking God.