Mine Rescue Redux

The other day when a news anchor said that the mine rescue in Chile brought back memories of one in Pennsylvania, I expected something about an event in 1963. Instead, the story was about a rescue of nine miners in Somerset County in 2002, the implication being that it was the model for the rescue in Chile.

But not mentioned in the report was the model for Somerset County, the first time rescuers drilled into a mine from above and pulled out miners. That happened near Sheppton, Pennsylvania, in 1963. It was quite the operation and I had the privilege as a journalist of visiting the site and seeing the rescue operation under way, although I was not present when two of the three miners were pulled through a tube to the surface. (The third miner’s body was never recovered.)

The atmosphere around the site was mixed. I remember sad family members of the trapped miners sitting glumly under a tent awaiting word. Elsewhere, a local caterer had set up to serve the rescuers and the press. I remember bumping into some of my fellow journalists, including Ray Saul of the Hazleton paper.

The man leading the rescue was a guy named H. Beecher Charmbury, who was the state’s secretary of mines and had been recruited from Penn State to run the bureau. He was credited with coming up with the idea of drilling a hole to the miners, using it to send down food and for communication, and then enlarging it enough to send a man-size cylinder to retrieve the two miners.

Shortly after the rescue, I joined the Navy and didn’t give the rescue another thought.

But I had the pleasure decades later of working with Charmbury, who had returned to Penn State and had become active in Republican politics. He was the chair of the county party and I worked with him on various events, including the annual chicken barbecue.

In the late 1980s, my wife and I formed a luncheon group called the Anthracite League and decided we would have speakers. Our first speaker was Charmbury.

He gave an excellent presentation and showed his own slides. The slides stood out because they were in black and white, which added a nice tone to his presentation.

As we cheer on the rescuers in Chile, we should remember Sheppton and Beecher Charmbury and note that a mine rescue in 1963 remains an important part of world history in 2010.


  1. My name is J.Ronnie Sando I was a member of the rescue team from Sullivan Trail Coal Company of West Pittston, Pa.I think I'm one of the last members of that team alive.I have a book titled "The Sheppton Mine Rescue"the untold story the blood and sweat of the rescue team,that gives a day to day true story of how we pulled off the rescue that set presedence for mine rescues to follow,we were the pioneers. for more information ronniesando@gmail.com

  2. Had an uncle who was a Welder and worked at the time in the area for an outfit called Pignotti or something. They had him welding some sort of heavy plates together during the rescue operations. Never did tell me what they were used for.