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Home* News and Stories → 100 years ago: Spitsbergen’s lar­gest mining acci­dent

100 years ago: Spitsbergen’s lar­gest mining acci­dent

Spitsbergen’s lar­gest mining dis­as­ter ever took place exact­ly 100 years ago, 03 Janu­a­ry 1920, in mine 1 in Lon­gye­ar City. The mine is today most­ly known as the “Ame­ri­can mine” and Lon­gye­ar City is cal­led Lon­gye­ar­by­en sin­ce 1926. Mine 1 was in ope­ra­ti­on from 1906, when Lon­gye­ar City was foun­ded by the Ame­ri­can Arc­tic Coal Com­pa­ny, foun­ded and owned by John Mun­ro Lon­gye­ar. In 1916, Lon­gye­ar sold his pro­per­ty to the Nor­we­gi­an com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni, known as Store Nor­ske, short SNSK. Store Nor­ske con­ti­nued to pro­du­ce coal in mine 1 (later cal­led mine 1a, as the­re was a mine 1b in ope­ra­ti­on from 1939 abo­ve Sver­drup­by­en, the sou­thern­most part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en).

Mine 1 (American mine), Longyearbyen

Mine 1, known as “Ame­ri­can mine”, abo­ve the church in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.
26 miners died here during a coal dust explo­si­on in 1920.

Mine 1 explo­ded in the ear­ly morning hours of 03 Janu­a­ry 1920. It was a coal dust explo­si­on that kil­led 26 miners. The­re were only eight sur­vi­vors, two of them inju­red. Blas­ting is sup­po­sed to have igni­ted the coal dust. The explo­si­on was so strong that a pit pony is said to have been blown out of the mine and across the val­ley!

This acci­dent was a cata­stro­phe for the small mining sett­le­ment Lon­gye­ar City/Longyearbyen, which was back then com­ple­te­ly iso­la­ted during the polar night. Darkness and bad wea­ther made res­cue ope­ra­ti­ons dif­fi­cult. Mine 1 was clo­sed after the acci­dent.

With 26 vic­tims, this acci­dent remains the lar­gest cata­stro­phe rela­ted to mining ever in Spits­ber­gen (the explo­si­on in the Esther mine in Ny-Åle­sund on 05 Novem­ber 1962 kil­led 21 miners).

Miners' memorial, Longyearbyen

Memo­ri­al for tho­se miners who died during their work for Store Nor­ske from 1916.
Mine 1 is visi­ble in the upper right cor­ner.

A memo­ri­al was erec­ted in 2016 near the road below mine 1. It is dedi­ca­ted to tho­se miners who died during their work for Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni sin­ce the com­pa­ny bought Lon­gye­ar City in 1916. Today, 100 years after the acci­dent of 03 Janu­a­ry 1916, a cere­mo­ny will be held here to com­me­mo­ra­te tho­se who died in Spitsbergen’s lar­gest mining acci­dent.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (1): Spitz­ber­gen – vom Polar­licht bis zur Mit­ter­nachts­son­ne”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2020-01-03 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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