January 3, 2023 - Seventeen years ago Monday, on Jan. 2, 2006, 15 miners were entering the Sago Mine, located about 12 miles outside the city, to start their shift.
Within minutes, their lives and those of their families were changed forever.
An explosion rocked the mine and much of the surrounding area, leaving the fate of the miners in doubt.
Two of the miners, who were dropped off closer to the entrance before the others went deeper into the mine, survived and made their way to safety after the explosion.
Outside, emergency responders quickly assembled and began mounting a rescue strategy.
However, they were struggling to gather enough information to determine how best to stage the rescue. Communication inside the mine was a major problem but dedicated responders worked in an attempt to rescue the men.
About 41 hours after the explosion, rescuers reached the miners in the early morning hours of Jan. 4, 2006.
Faulty communication led to rumors that all 13 miners were found alive, which was reported by the national media that had camped out at the site since the explosion. That announcement set off a celebration by family and well-wishers.
Because of the late hour, it also led to a number of newspapers and other media outlets to report the wrong information the next morning.
However, a short time after the initial announcement, then-Gov. Joe Manchin had to break the news to the family and the public that only one miner was found alive.
Randal McCloy, a miner from Taylor County, had survived.
Trapped with him in the mine were Marty Bennett, Marshall Cade Winans, Fred G. “Bear” Ware Jr., David William Lewis, Terry Helms, James A. Bennett, Thomas “Tom” Paul Anderson, Jerry Lee Groves, Jesse L. Jones, Martin Toler Jr., Jackie Lynn Weaver and George Junior Hamner.
The men wrote messages to their families on the walls of the mine. One message, “We’ll see you on the other side,” also appears on the memorial that is now located near the site.
McCloy has said that four of the miners were experiencing difficulties with their Self-Contained Self-Rescuers (portable oxygen devices), according to the investigative overview.
The cause of the explosion was never clearly determined. Some believe a lightning strike from an unusual heavy thunderstorm that passed through the area that morning, touched off an explosion of the methane gas in the mine.
Some believe the mine's ventilation was faulty and that methane and built up coal dust were to blame.
Manchin, now West Virginia's senior U.S. Senator, recalled the tragedy:
“Seventeen years ago, we lost twelve brave coal miners who went to work at the Sago mine and never returned home to their beloved families. West Virginia came together after the tragedy to grieve the loss of our fellow West Virginians and support the families and loved ones of those lost.
"The Sago mine disaster resulted in legislation that improved safety standards for our miners who sacrifice every day to power our great nation,” Manchin said.
“The anniversary of this tragedy reminds us that our miners are willing to risk their lives for us, and we owe it to them to prioritize their health and safety. Gayle and I will keep the miners’ families and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers as we remember this tragic loss of those twelve brave West Virginians.”