Joe Riggs died helping attempt to save Gaston E. Adams, Jr., from an impending explosion, Brookwood, Alabama, September 23, 2001. Adams, 56, and two other miners were building supports to address deteriorating roof conditions in a section of a large coal mine that was 2,100 feet below the surface of the ground. As they worked, the roof in that vicinity fell, freeing a quantity of methane. Within minutes the methane exploded, severely injuring Adams and damaging ventilation controls in that part of the mine. Also injured, the other miners left to secure help, their visibility obscured by dense dust. Three miners working in near parts of the mine started toward the scene, meeting up with the injured miners and learning from them that Adams was incapacitated. After the men then alerted the mine’s control room to the situation and de-energized the affected section’s high-voltage supply, the three responding miners entered that section and made their way by locomotive, then foot, to Adams, the injured miners continuing toward the mine exit. Meanwhile, Riggs, 51, precision mason, and four other miners, all of whom had been working at distant points in the mine, learned of the ignition and started toward the affected section. En route they too met up with the injured miners, then, after learning more of the situation, continued to the scene. They proceeded on foot into the affected section to the vicinity reached by the first party of rescuers. Other miners who learned of the ignition also responded from distant parts of the mine. They too encountered the injured miners and, after sharing information, four of them continued toward the affected section, arriving at its mouth shortly after Riggs and his party. A massive explosion of methane soon tore through the affected section of the mine and then through the neighboring ones. Rescue teams were assembled and within hours reached the scene, where one of the miners from the last party was found alive but badly burned. He was removed to the hospital, where he died of his injuries the next day. Unstable conditions delayed further recovery efforts for six weeks, at which time the bodies of Adams, Riggs, and the remaining 10 rescuers were removed from the mine.
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Joe Riggs, 51, of Cottondale, Ala., died on Sept. 23, 2001. He was buried in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Memorial Park. He was the son of Ellis and Juanita Riggs of Roderfield, W. Va.
(Edited from a family memorial card.)