Four miners remain unaccounted for since an explosion ripped through the mine during a shift change on the afternoon of April 5. A buildup of gas inside the mine has repeatedly delayed rescue efforts. Each time mine rescue teams have advanced further into the mine they have encountered unfavorable atmospheric conditions. The teams were ordered to exit the mine quickly for fear of a second explosion.
The company moved four dill rigs onto a site above the mine to drill approximately 1,100 ft into the active works to vent the gas. The first of five holes reached the headgate area of the longwall on the morning of April 7. Officials received no response from possible survivors inside the mine. As soon as atmospheric conditions inside the mine improved, mine rescue teams were allowed to re-enter to continue the search. Officials may lower a camera to check the status of the second chamber.
On April 6, Massey Energy confirmed 25 fatalities at its Upper Big Branch mine. Two miners were transported to hospitals and remain hospitalized. Four miners are still missing. The remains of 11 miners have been recovered and identified, but another 14 have not. Nine miners were leaving on a mantrip. When a crew ahead of them felt the overpressure from the ignition, they went back to investigate and found that seven of the nine were dead.
Executives from Massey Energy, including Don Blankenship, CEO, Chris Adkins, COO, and, Elizabeth Chamberlin, vice president-safety and health, are on-site coordinating Massey’s search and rescue efforts along with state and federal officials. “We mourn the deaths of our members at Massey Energy,” Blankenship said. “I want to offer my condolences to the miners’ families who lost loved ones at Upper Big Branch. And I want to thank the rescue teams and the Massey members who continue to work hard on behalf of our miners and their families.”
According to the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA), a total of nine mine rescue teams are on-site, including company teams and other teams from the State of West Virginia. Mine Emergency Operations personnel from MSHA have accompanied the rescue teams underground. MSHA District Manager Robert Hardman is leading the agency’s rescue efforts at the mine site. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main and MSHA Coal Mine Safety and Health Administrator Kevin Stricklin are onsite. MSHA announced on April 7 that it had appointed a team of investigators to look into the cause of the explosion.
In an effort to ensure the families receive only information confirmed by state and federal authorities, Massey Energy has established an area at the Performance Coal Training Center for families to meet directly with company and government officials. In addition, the company set up a toll free hotline (1- 877-534-5152) for families to call if they require counseling or other services and assistance. Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center is coordinating counseling services.
Located in Raleigh County, W.Va., about 30 miles south of Charleston, the Upper Big Branch mine is a longwall operation. Last year, according to MSHA figures, the mine produced 364,000 tons.
This is already the worst U.S. mine incident since 1984, when 27 miners died in the Wilberg mine fire in Utah. If the four missing bring the total to 29, it would be the most killed in a U.S. mine since the 1970 Finley Coal explosion killed 38 in Kentucky.