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Jonesville Coal Mine Explosion 1937 Alaska ...
1937   14 FATALITIES
1957    5 FATALITIES

Written by  Coleen Mielke


Protected by Copyscape Originality Checker

Evan Jones of Ireland, came to Alaska in 1917 and became the superintendent of the Doherty Mine on Moose Creek. Later he was the superintendent of the Eska and Chickaloon Mines. In 1920, he organized the Evan Jones Coal Company with 4 other Anchorage investors: Z.J. Loussac, Oscar Anderson, Jack Collins and Dr. Frank Blythe. They leased 2,240 acres of land on the south slope of Wishbone Hill, north of Palmer, Alaska and opened the Jonesville Coal Mine.

On October 26, 1937, there were 19 men working at the mine, when a large underground explosion killed 14 of them; only Hjalmer Houser, Jack Angeli, Oscar Jyhla, Car Edman and Victor Raide survived.

Those that perished were:
Joseph Cernick
New Mexico
Worked at mine 8 months,
son of Frank and Alma Cernick
Robert Nakki
Immigrated 1910

Worked at mine 1 year + fished at Bristol Bay. Wife and 2 daughters
World War I  veteran
Anchorage, AK
Jack Saarela
Juneau, AK
Son of August and Johanna Saarela
Anchorage, AK
Augustine Yerbich

Son of Peter Yerbich and Nadala "Dolly" Mistic. Also worked at Fern Gold Mine
Nebish, Minnesota
Axel Huittla
Immigrated 1906

Old timer in Alaska but only short time at mine. Had a brother in Ketchikan
Anchorage, AK
Frank Joseph Melznik

Worked at Lucky Shot gold mine +
Anchorage, AK
John A. Mattson
Husband of Eleanor Mattson  6 children
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Leslie Lampson
Sanborn, Wisconsin
Son of William and Anna Lampson  - worked at mine 4 months
Anchorage, AK
Pete Ferreni
Brescia, Italy

Immigrated 1903 worked for AK RR many years
Anchorage, AK
Otto Nakkola
Immigrated 1908

Worked at mine 2 years + fished at Bristol Bay + prospected around Flat
Anchorage, AK
Abel Edward Asikainen
Kaavi, Finland
Immigrated 1912
Worked at mine 4-5 months, had a daughter Violet in Crosby, Minnesota
Anchorage, AK
Paul Williams
Smolensk, Russia

3 years at Jonesville
Anchorage, AK
Peter Olson
Helgeland, Norway

Immigrated 1924, changed name to Peter Olson in Anchorage, Alaska 1935.
Anchorage, AK
Josef Lucas
Brno, Czechoslovakia

Had a sister Mary Walenchik at Roslyn, Washington
Anchorage, AK

The first person to report the disaster was Harry Drake, a mine foreman, who telephoned Oscar Anderson in Anchorage and told him a large explosion inside the mine had trapped 19 men and asked for doctors, nurses and medical supplies to come as soon as possible.

Dr. A.S. Walkowski and Dr. Howard Romig raced from Anchorage to the mine (on a gas powered railroad speeder car) and found that 4 men had escaped the mine uninjured and a 5th man, Vic Raide needed medical attention for a broken leg, broken ribs and extensive burns. The condition of the other 14 men trapped in the mine was not known immediately.

When the explosion occurred, Jake Angeli was working about 350' from the gangway.  He said, "I had just looked at my watch and it was 2:10 when, all at once, it was like a shot passed by my head like a wave. I stood there for a few seconds and then I told Carl Edman, who was with me, that I thought it was a gas explosion and that we better find the trouble. We started out and met a big black cloud of stinking, choking smoke that nearly blinded us. We bent low to get our heads out of the fumes. As we rushed towards the entrance, we found Vic Raide and moved him to a safer spot, away from the falling timbers and planks."

While the doctors attended to Raide's injuries, he drew a detailed map, showing the rescuers where each of the men should be found.

Hjalmer Houser said that he and Otto Nakkola were together when they felt the concussion of the explosion. They tried to get to safety but decided to go back into the mine to help their friend, Augustine Yerbich. "We climbed and climbed and we were both gasping for breath. Our eyes were smarting and watering and just as I thought I was done for, I felt fresh air. I couldn't go another inch, so I just hung there with my nose in the fresh air. After a while, I wrapped my shirt around my eyes and nose and went back into the shaft to find Nakkola. I told him, 'Come on, try once more', but he didn't move. He weighed 230 pounds and I couldn't budge him. He died 6' from the surface."

Scores of laborers dug, in 6 hour shifts, trying to get through the 35' mass of dirt, rock and timbers that lay 300' from the entrance to the mine. Fourteen men died that day.

It took 2 days to get all 14 men out of the mine,
their bodies were taken to Anchorage by railroad car.

Z.J. Loussac, Vice President of Evan Jones Coal Company
reported that "the bodies are badly mangled and burned
and I doubt they will be identified".

The Alaska Commissioner of Mines filed an official report concerning the cause of the Jonesville explosion. The Commissioner, the U.S. Bureau of Mines safety engineer and three of the most "experienced and dependable" coal miners in the district participated in the investigation. They determined that the immediate cause of the explosion was a body of flammable gas and explosive coal dust that was ignited when one of the miners lit a cigarette near the face of the gangway. They also blamed Jonesville mine officials for not testing the mine atmosphere for flammable gas as well as their failure to stop miners from carrying smoking supplies and matches into the mine.



In 1957, 6 independent miners were working at the 750' level of the 1000' Evan Jones Slope Mine north of Palmer, Alaska. Mid-morning on January 18th, one of the miners, Merrit Long, left the main shaft on a routine chore. Minutes later, a large explosion shook a 35' mound of rock, dirt and timbers onto the floor of the shaft about 300' from the mine entrance.

An 80 man crew, directed by Don Hill, a manager of the Evan Jones Coal Company worked frantically to reach the miners, while cave-ins near the mines entrance slowed their progress. The explosion had ripped a large ventilator fan from its housing, deep within the mine, cutting off a large part of the mines fresh air supply and endangering the rescue workers.

Family and friends of the trapped miners waited in the frigid 5° to 10° weather for word. Two days after the explosion, the 5 victims were found dead at the 750' level.

In the 12/31/1958 the Alaska Commissioner of Mines wrote the following about the 1957 Jonesville accident: "The miners were killed  by flame and forces of an underground explosion set off  by an under-burdened shot in the presence of an explosive mixture of methane and air and/or coal dust."


The men who lost their lives on 1/18/1957 were:

Phillip Vincent Doherty
1919 Ireland
Wife: Mary Katherine Rush
Sons:Phillip Jr., Paul and Mark  

Buried in Pennsylvania
John Elvin (Steve) Fowler
1921 Oklahoma

Son of John W. and Nellie Fowler
Buried in Utah

Sam Rasmus Kwandahl  
1900 Norway

Immigrated 1921
Born: Soren Rasmussen Kvamsdal
Became US Citizen and changed his name in 1956. Buried in Palmer, Alaska

Glenn Vore
1920 Ohio
Wife: Daisy Gill Vore
Daughter: Goldie Grace

Buried in Palmer, Alaska
Nick Uzelac
1915 Utah
Wife: Aleen Olson Uzelac
Children: Roberta and Irene

Buried in Palmer, Alaska


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