Steelworkers in this Ohio River town voted overwhelmingly tonight to buy the giant Weirton mill and make it the country's largest employe-owned corporation.

Approximately 8,000 Weirton Steel hourly and salaried employes voted on three questions related to taking the plant over from Pittsburgh-based National Intergroup Inc., formerly National Steel Corp.

About 85 percent of the workers voted to ratify a labor contract that included a pay cut and benefits concessions but was considered necessary to implement the takeover.

The employes also approved measures to amend their contract with National Intergroup and to ratify the terms of the Employe Stock Ownership Program.

Leaders of Weirton's Independent Steelworkers Union had predicted that the plan would carry. "People don't really have much choice," said steelworker Richard Chipps. "A lot of guys are scared."

National Intergroup Inc. has indicated that unless the plant is purchased it will close nearly all of it down, leaving only one mill with jobs for 1,500 steelworkers.

Nearly 9,800 steelworkers and office employes were eligible to vote on the set of proposals that would permit the sale to go forward, although it cannot take effect until the last of several legal challenges has been resolved.

A plan negotiated by employes' representatives and National would permit Weirton's workers to buy the plant for $74.7 million in cash and long-term notes for $119.2 million to National. Financing the purchase with a $120 million line of credit, the Weirton employes would also take over $192.3 million in National's liabilities, for a total acquisition cost of $386.1 million.

The steelworkers, among the highest-paid in the nation, and office employes, would agree to a reduction in pay and benefits averaging nearly 20 percent.