Scotia Mine Disaster

Historical Marker #2314 in Letcher County notes the tragic mine explosions that occurred at Scotia Mine in 1976. The accidents are considered two of the worst mine disasters in U.S. history.

The Scotia Mine began operations in 1962 and was a subsidiary of the Blue Diamond Coal Company. It was located in the Ovenfork Community of Letcher County, about fourteen miles northeast of the town of Cumberland (Harlan County, Kentucky). On March 9, 1976, at approximately 11:45 a.m., an explosion caused by coal dust and gasses rocked the Scotia mine. Two days later, a second explosion happened. The first explosion killed fifteen miners; the second killed eleven. Investigators believed that the explosions were caused by methane gasses that were ignited by a spark caused by a battery-powered locomotive or another electric device. A lack of ventilation figured prominently in the accidents.

The explosions at Scotia led to the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. This law strengthened the previously passed 1969 act, which, at the time, had been the most significant legislation on mine safety ever adopted in the U.S. The 1977 law also moved the Mine Safety and Health Administration from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor.

The widows of 15 of the men who died in the Scotia Mine explosions sued the parent company, Blue Diamond Coal, for $60 million in a wrongful death and negligence suit (Boggs v. Blue Diamond Coal Company). Their suit was initially rejected, because the judge found that Kentucky's Workman's Compensation Law exempted parent company's from tort liability. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the case to go forward. In 1980, Blue Diamond settled with the widows, providing $5.5 million in payment.

The Scotia mine was also faced criminal charges. In 1982, the Mine pleaded guilty to two charges and no contest to another three criminal charges. They were fined $80,000. The judge in the criminal case allowed Scotia/Blue Diamond to contribute $60,000 to charitable organizations that provided support in the aftermath of the explosions.

The marker reads:


One of the worst mine disasters in U.S. history. Faulty equipment ignited methane & coal dust due to lack of proper ventilation. On Mar. 9 & 11, 1976, twin explosions took the lives of 26 coal miners and federal mine inspectors in the Scotia mines located nearby. This led to the passage of the Federal Mine Safety & Health Act of 1977.


(Reverse) In honor of those who lost their lives: R.M. Sammons, K. Kiser, G. Tussey, D. Gibbs, J. Williams, T.R. Scott, E.S. Combs, R. McKnight, D. Widner, E. Galloway, K. Turner, W. Turner, L.D. McKnight, G. Barker, D. Boggs, J. Hackworth, V. Coots, J. Sturgill, C. Polly, R. Griffith, M. Sturgill, D. Creech, L. Peavy, J.W. Sturgill, I.G. Sparkman, and J.B. Holbrook.

This marker was dedicated on March 9, 2010, the 34 anniversary of the explosion.