An Alabama community marked the ninth anniversary Thursday of the underground accident that killed 13 coal miners, most of them while trying to rescue others.
The lives were lost as a pair of blasts ripped through the now-closed Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 mine at Brookwood on Sept. 23, 2001.
A memorial was dedicated to the miners in 2002, with a glossy headstone bearing the names of the 13. It is reached by a brick pathway from West Brookwood Church. Each year a memorial is held on the church lawn.
"The memorial is a tribute to their lives," said James Blankenship, president of the United Mine Workers of America chapter 2245 in Brookwood. "They are heroes. It's just as if they took a gun and went overseas. They gave their lives for a fallen brother."
The tragedy began when several miners were injured as a falling rock struck a large battery charger, causing a spark that ignited methane. Ten miners set out in the deep vertical mine to rescue them. Three of the injured were able to get out, but three others and the 10 in the rescue unit were killed when a second, larger explosion erupted deep in the mine about 55 minutes later.
"When one of those people gets hurt or needs help, all you think about is going back to them, going to get them," Blankenship told The Tuscaloosa News. "That's what those men did."
Thomas Wilson, a safety inspector for the miners union, said it's important to remember the tragedy each year "because we don't want these accidents to ever occur again."
He said the memorial also serves as a reunion because many of the workers' family members have since moved away. At the close of the service, a candlelight ceremony is held, with 13 miners donning cap-lights, like those miners wear, and one by one they turn the lights out and lay evergreen branches on the monument.