These Are Some of the Biggest Mining Disasters in History

By: Ben Campbell | Published: Apr 13, 2024

At the onset of the Industrial Revolution, large-scale coal mining was developed to supply sufficient energy for industries and transportation. 

From the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of workers made a living working in the mines around the world.

Mining Disasters Throughout History

While the mines provided a steady paycheck for their workers, they also brought with them various dangers and disasters.

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An image of several miners leaving their workplace after a long day

Source: Wikimedia

This, unfortunately, led to the death of thousands.

Courrières Mine Disaster

Courrières Mine in the northern part of France was considered a complex structure with several underground layers that connected to pit heads above. Many assumed this would help in times of emergency; however, this was not the case.

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An image of several miners outside of the Courrières Mine

Source: Wikimedia

At the beginning of March 1906, the mine experienced a large gas explosion that killed over 1,000 miners.

What Caused the Courrières Mine Disaster

Opinions on the cause of the explosion vary. However, one popular theory suggests a miner’s open lamp ignited methane gas. 

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A painting that depicts the Courrières Mine Disaster of 1906

Source: Wikimedia

Enclosed lamps such as the Davy or Georgie variants were available during the era, yet they were not issued by the mine’s owners, sparking controversy. The disaster remains the worst mining incident to ever occur in Europe.

The Benxihu Colliery Disaster

In 1942, workers showed up for their usual shift at the Benxihu Colliery mine in the Liaoning province of China. 

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An image of a large amount of Chinese miners underground

Source: Wikimedia

The mine was a joint effort from the Chinese and Japanese governments and was first opened in 1905. Four decades after it first opened, the mine would experience the worst disaster in the industry’s history.

The Worst Mining Disaster in History

In the spring of 1942, an explosion in the mine started an enormous fire that sent flames out of the mineshaft’s entrance. The authorities quickly decided to seal the pit head in an attempt to cut off oxygen from the fire. 

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An image of a man as he watches an explosion at a nearby mine

Source: Freepik

However, in doing so, they trapped over 1,500 miners in the mine, each of whom began inhaling large amounts of smoke. As a result of the authorities’ actions, 1,549 miners lost their lives. 

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Chasnala Mine Disaster

In December 1975, a mine in Dhanbad, India, experienced a devastating explosion that led to catastrophic flooding. 

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An image of an extensive coal mine in Dhanbad, India

Source: Wikimedia

While theories about the origin of the explosion range from operational blasting to an ignition of methane gas, the end result saw hundreds of workers lose their lives. 

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The Aftermath of the Explosion

Search and rescue teams didn’t find any of the bodies until 26 days after the initial explosion. The total number of deaths was reported at close to 375, yet unions claim it was closer to 700. 

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A large yellow digger is pictured in the middle of the Dhanbad mine complex in India

Source: Wikimedia

In the wake of the disaster, miners blamed bad management, who denied any responsibility. Over 37 years after the incident, two officials were fined a mere 5000 rupees, which equates to around $60.

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Luisenthal Mine Disaster

The Luisenthal Mine in Völklingen, Germany, was known as a dangerous place to work in the early 1900s due to its high concentrations of flammable gases. 

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An image of the Luisenthal mine in Germany

Source: Wikimedia

Over 20 explosions occurred during the 20th century, and following an incident in 1941 that saw 41 miners lose their lives, the mine was updated with the latest safety technology.

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Devastating Explosion at the Luisenthal Mine

While the Luisenthal Mine was then deemed safe, just two decades later, an enormous explosion ripped through the mines after a cavern of methane was cracked open. 

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An image of a monument dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Luisenthal mine disaster

Source: Wikimedia

An estimated 299 miners lost their lives during the explosion, and a further 73 were injured. It remains the region’s worst coal mine disaster to date.

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Gleision Colliery Disaster

In the small Welsh village of Cilybebyll lies Gleision Colliery. Unlike typical mines, the shafts were drilled horizontally into the side of a hill, which allowed them to access the coal bed. 

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The Church of St. John the Evangelist in the Welsh village of Cilybebyll

Source: Wikimedia

However, the Gleision Colliery was near an unused mine that was flooded. In 2011, disaster struck when several miners conducted several operational blasts, which unfortunately opened a hole in the flooded mine. 

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Workers Trapped 300 Feet Beneath the Ground

The mine began filling with water and trapped the seven active workers almost 300 feet beneath the ground. 

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A plaque dedicated to the four people who lost their lives during the Gleision Colliery Disaster

Source: Wikimedia

While three miners managed to escape the flooding, the other four died and were discovered the following day. 

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