John W. Blazek, Jr., rescued Percy A. Hooper from a cave-in, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, January 31, 1956. When a section of roof fell in a coal mine 550 feet below the surface, Hooper, 33, was buried between a loading machine and a coal pillar. By the time the general foreman arrived in a vehicle driven by Blazek, 39, mine motorman, workmen had uncovered the entrance to a natural tunnel with an opening 18 inches wide and 20 inches high. Blazek crawled into the tunnel, which was poorly illuminated. Using extreme caution, he moved small fragments to the side of him and pushed larger lumps toward the mouth of the tunnel, where they were removed by the foreman. Ten feet inside the tunnel, Blazek reached Hooper. After carefully removing debris from around Hooper’s legs and hips, Blazek discovered that a slab of coal was wedged tightly between Hooper’s back and the roof of the tunnel. Blazek called for a small hand-axe, which he used to break up the slab. Finding Hooper’s right leg pinned under him, Blazek removed coal fragments from around the leg, and then pulled it to a fully extended position. As Hooper still was wedged tightly, a pocketknife was slid into the tunnel to Blazek, who freed Hooper by cutting his belt and headlamp cord. Blazek took hold of Hooper’s ankles. The foreman partially entered the tunnel and grasped Blazek’s ankles, and others then cautiously pulled all three from the tunnel in a human chain. Hooper, who had been buried an hour and a half, was hospitalized for four days from shock and bruises. Blazek, who had been in the tunnel 30 minutes, was nervous and sustained minor cuts. Both recovered. 44006-4097
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John W. Blazek, 91, died on April 6, 2008, in his home in Masontown, Pa. Blazek was born on Nov. 7, 1916, in Leckrone, Pa., the second of five sons of John W. Blazek, Sr.
In 1979, Blazek retired from U.S. Steel after working as a coal miner for 40 years. On Jan. 31, 1956, he risked his life by crawling under yards of fallen material to save the life of a fellow miner who had been trapped. For his selfless action he became the first Robena miner to be awarded the Carnegie Medal, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s recognition for civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
At the Frick Veterans 39th annual picnic at Idlewild Park on June 28, 1957, the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association presented Blazek with a medal of honor and certificate of merit.
He was a member of All Saints Catholic Church of Masontown. He also was a founding lifetime member of the Masontown Fish and Game Club and a member of Pals Club of Masontown.
Blazek was buried in the Greene County Memorial Park in Waynesburg, Pa.
(Edited from an obituary provided by a family member.)