Fact Check

Mine Collapse Selflessness

Trapped miners gave their oxygen to a young father, who survived.

Published Feb 25, 2007

Claim:   Trapped miners gave their oxygen to one of their number, a young father, who survived.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

I am sure everyone is aware of the mining tragedy in Buckhannon. I work in Buckhannon and the lady who cleans our office was in here late last night as I was still working. She came in very excited that someone was still here so she could share some good news surrounding this incident. I though it was incredibly inspiring, touching, and worth sharing as a testament to God's purpose in all things.

She had a couple relatives who died in the accident, and she knew the family and young man who survived. Randall McCloy apparently has a young family and small children, and those fellow miners who were trapped with him made the decision at least in part to give their oxygen to this young man so he could survive to raise his family. According to her there are notes in several of the deceased miners lunch boxes describing their decision. Her comment was that she knew several of them and that some weren't right with the Lord, but her belief is that the Lord, working in ways we cannot comprehend, opened an opportunity for them to open their hearts to God, and then make an extreme sacrifice of love for another.

I was in awe at this story of self-sacrifice, and know that this could only be the work of the Lord for such a thing to happen. My hope is that the media, so caught up in tragedy chasing, latches onto this inspirational story as fast as they do the opportunity to report about the death, loss, and other surrounding travails of this situation.

Origins:   On 2 January 2006, parts of the Sago Mine in West Virginia collapsed, leaving unknown the fate of thirteen miners trapped by the accident. Rescuers did not reach these men until almost two days later, at which time it was discovered twelve of the miners had perished, eleven of suffocation and one from injuries received in the


The lone survivor, Randal McCloy, was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and organ damage. His family elected for him to receive hyperbaric therapy, the same treatment given to scuba divers suffering from the bends: Patients breathe 100 percent oxygen (room air is 21 percent oxygen) in a chamber where the atmospheric pressure is two to three times normal to help the oxygen penetrate tissues it cannot reach under normal conditions. To effect this treatment, McCloy was kept in a medically-induced coma.

While this 26-year-old father of two struggled to recover, speculation regarding the possible reasons for his being the only survivor of this mining disaster remained unanswered. One theory asserted the other miners, knowing that all would perish otherwise, shared oxygen from their self-rescuers with McCloy:

[The Daily Telegraph, 2006]

The miner's father, Randal McCloy Sr, said that he believed "in his heart" that his son's mostly 50-something colleagues decided during their last, desperate hours to share their dwindling oxygen supply with his son because he was the youngest of the group and had two young children.

[Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2006]

Ms. McCloy [Randal McCloy's wife] said she would not be surprised to learn, as friends and family have begun to speculate, that his fellow miners sacrificed some of their oxygen supply to save him when they were trapped underground together following an explosion Monday.

"I figure they thought of Randy as one of their sons and wanted to take care of him," she said.

Final messages in the form of scribbled notes to loved ones were found on some of the miners, but none of their contents (as released to the media) made mention of oxygen being donated to McCloy.

Several months after the accident, when Randal McCloy was sufficiently recovered to release a statement, the story he told was the opposite of the one presented above: At least four of the miners' air packs did not function, so McCloy shared his own rescuer with another miner, and the miners trapped with him shared theirs with the other three men whose own devices did not work:

The air packs — referred to as "rescuers" — are intended to give each miner about an hour's worth of oxygen while they escape or find a pocket of clean air. But at least four of the devices did not function, McCloy said.

"There were not enough rescuers to go around," McCloy said. He said he shared his air pack with miner Jerry Groves, and his co-workers did the same with the three other men whose devices were not functioning.

Finally, resigned to their fate, the men recited a "sinner's prayer," scrawled farewell notes to their loved ones, and succumbed, some as if drifting off to sleep.

The miners did not all share their air packs with Randal McCloy because he was a young father in need of help — Randal and some others shared their own rescuers with four other men because there were not enough working packs to go around.

Barbara "miner difference" Mikkelson

Last updated:   27 April 2006


  Sources Sources:

    Banks, Gabrielle.   "Wife Gives Miner Sound, Smell of Home."

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   7 January 2006   (p. A5).

    Boselovic, Len.   "Devices Likely Gave Miners an Hour of Oxygen."

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   5 January 2006   (p. D1).

    Breed, Alan.   "Miners' Last Words — We Just Went to Sleep: Doomed Men Write to Families."

    The Daily Telegraph.   7 January 2006   (p. 19).

    Grady, Denise.   "While Lone Survivor Lies in Coma, Many Speak of 'Miracle.'"

    New York Times.   6 January 2006.

    Smith, Vicki.   "Mine Survivor Says Air Packs Didn't Work."

    Associated Press.   27 April 2006.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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