In early May, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Sunshine mine disaster in Idaho that trapped 173 workers underground and killed 91.
It was a “day that changed the mining industry forever,” according to the agency: on May 2, 1972, a fire broke out underground at the operation in Kellogg just before noon and filled the area where most of the miners were working with smoke.
Of the 173, 80 were able to escape, and the 91 who perished were found to have died from carbon monoxide exposure. Only two were rescued after a week trapped 1,600 meters underground.
“At that point in history, the Sunshine mine fire was the largest disaster in the hard-rock mining industry since the 1917 mine fire at the Speculator mine in Montana,” MSHA pointed out. “The Sunshine fire exposed weaknesses in the administrative setup of the safety and health program for metal and nonmetal miners and, as a result, served as the catalyst for the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act).”
The agency said it remains committed to promoting safe and healthy workplaces for the industry’s greatest resource: miners.