At about noon on May 2nd, 1972 miners noticed smoke inside the Sunshine Silver Mine near Kellogg. The mine is a labyrinth of tunnels and shafts a mile deep and more. It was almost impossible to tell just where the smoke was coming from.
One hundred seventy-three men were in the mine on that fateful day. At the first hint of smoke they began to evacuate.
There are tales of bravery and tragedy too lengthy to recount. A hoistman ran his elevator-like hoist, lifting men through the toxic smoke to safety--until he died at the controls. One rescuer gave up his oxygen mask to an escaping miner, and in turn gave up his life. Heroism was the rule of the day with so many lives at stake.
Rescue efforts went on for a week, with nearly 100 men brought in from surrounding states and Canada. Then, on May 9th, two miners were found alive. Hopes soared with the discovery of the men, and rescuers redoubled their attempts. But that night workers began to recover bodies. The grim task continued until May 13th, eleven days after the fire began. There were no more survivors to be found.
Ninety-one men died from carbon monoxide poisoning inside the Sunshine Mine. The fire, with its deadly smoke, apparently started by spontaneous combustion in a junk pile deep within the mine. The Sunshine Mine disaster remains one of the deadliest in U.S. history.