Disasters: Too Late for 78

After ten days during which 16 explosions rocked the mine and turned its tunnels into blast furnaces of flame, gas and smoke, Consolidation Coal Company's Number 9 in Marion County, W. Va., was sealed last week. That somber decision made the mine a tomb for the 78 men missing in its depths. But company, government and union officials agreed that there was no other way to save the burning mine—and that the trapped men below were almost certainly dead from fire or gas, or both.

Mining coal has long been the nation's most...