Families of Sago Miners Quietly Mark Anniversary of Deadly Blast

The families and friends of 12 miners who died in a mine explosion a year ago Tuesday marked the anniversary with a quiet church gathering and an impromptu memorial after being stopped outside the mine's gates.

There were no official ceremonies and the families decided only on Monday to gather at the Sago Baptist Church, said Aly Goodwin Gregg, a spokeswoman for Randal McCloy Jr. The church was the place where relatives gathered to await details of rescue efforts.

McCloy, the lone survivor of the blast, was among the approximately two dozen people who gathered at the church and then walked to the Sago Mine. He did not comment.

International Coal Group, the mine's owner, closed the mine in honor of the 12 men. The families were told they could not approach the mine's opening because of safety concerns, ICG spokesman Ira Gamm said. Instead, they were directed to a fence where they placed 20 black and white roses and black ribbons.

The blast occurred Jan. 2, 2006, caused by a massive lightning strike sparked methane gas that had accumulated in a mined-out, sealed-off section of the mine, officials say. One man was killed in the explosion and the 11 others who were trapped died of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

The accident prompted sweeping changes to the nation's mine safety laws. Among them were new federal and state laws that doubled the amount of emergency air supplies miners must have with them at work and required mines to store extra air packs underground.

Russell Bennett, whose father Marty Bennett died in the explosion, said he wasn't upset by the lack of a public memorial ceremony.

"We had our own memorial every day this year," he said.