An explosion rocks the Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia on January 2, 2006. 13 coal miners were trapped, and all but one eventually died. The tragedy, exacerbated by false reports that 12 of the miners had been rescued, brought scrutiny upon the media, the company that owned the mine and the administration of then-president George W. Bush.
The explosion occurred early in the morning of January 2, as two groups of miners entered the mine. The cave-in trapped the first group of 13 inside the mine, and the group behind them soon found the air too contaminated with carbon monoxide for them to attempt a rescue. According to the account of the lone survivor, Randal McCloy, Jr., the trapped miners were equipped with emergency oxygen “rescuers,” but several of them failed to function. As crews above tried and failed to locate the miners, those trapped took emergency action to shield themselves from the fumes but were eventually overcome. McCloy recalled the group praying together and writing letters to their loved ones as, one by one, they lost consciousness.
When rescuers finally reached the miners over 40 hours after the explosion, they found McCloy in critical condition and the others dead. He was rushed to a hospital, where he remained unconscious for days. The source of the rumors is still unknown, but it was widely reported that 12 miners had survived, prompting newspapers and networks across the country to spread the false story of a “miracle.” The national media had quickly descended upon Sago, with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera filming live from outside the mine, and locals later accused the national media of inflicting emotional damage by running with unverified reports.
Just as the source of the false news has not been identified, the cause of the explosion has never been determined. Some believe a lightning strike or seismic activity was to blame, while others suspect sparks from the re-starting of equipment after the New Year’s holiday ignited the explosion. Multiple investigations and hearings sought to determine who was responsible, with many focusing on the fact that the Bush Administration had staffed regulatory positions with former lobbyists and executives from the coal industry. In particular, critics blamed former mining executive Dave Lauriski, Bush’s appointee to lead the Mining Health and Safety Administration, who had struck down a proposed rule requiring mines to maintain two functioning escapeways at all times. In the wake of the Sago tragedy, West Virginia quickly passed a law mandating multiple escapeways.