2 coal miners found dead after roof collapse in Kentucky mine with record of safety problems

By By Brett Barrouquere, AP
Thursday, April 29, 2010

2 miners found dead in roof collapse at Ky. mine

PROVIDENCE, Ky. — A rescue team found a second Kentucky miner dead Thursday after a roof collapse at an underground coal mine with a long history of safety problems.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear identified the miners as Justin Travis, 27, and Michael Carter, 28. The collapse happened late Wednesday at the Dotiki Mine near Providence.

“Our entire state mourns along with the families and friends,” Beshear said in a statement. “Despite our sadness, we must press forward to the work ahead of us — fully investigating what caused this accident and determining ways to avoid such accidents in the future.”

Carl Boone, district supervisor for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said crews have removed Carter’s body from the mine, but, as of 4 p.m. Central, were still working to retrieve the body of Travis. Boone said the investigation into the collapse will begin as soon as it is determined that the mine is safe to enter.

“We’ll just have to take it one step at a time,” he said.

Beshear met with family members Thursday afternoon in the Nebo Baptist Church. While he was inside, a woman was brought out of the church on a stretcher and taken away by ambulance.

Family members had declined to talk to reporters.

State and federal records show more than 40 closure orders for the mine over safety violations since January 2009.

Records show inspectors from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing have issued 31 orders to close sections of the mine or to shut down equipment because of safety violations since January 2009. Those records also show an additional 44 citations for safety violations that didn’t result in closure orders.

MSHA records show the mine was cited 840 times by federal inspectors for safety violations since January 2009, and 11 times closure orders were issued.

The records show 214 of the citations were issued in the first four months of this year, and twice inspectors issued closure orders this year.

The accident happened while the miners were operating what’s known as a continuous miner, a toothy machine that digs coal for transport to the surface, said Ricki Gardenhire, a spokeswoman for the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.

The mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, based in Tulsa, Okla. Charlie Wesley, an executive vice president for the coal company, said the last fatality inside the mine was in 1988. Alliance purchased the mine in 1971.

Alliance’s vice president of operations is Mine Safety and Health Administration veteran Kenneth A. Murray, a former district manager for the agency in eastern Kentucky who headed the investigation of a January 2006 fire that killed two men at a Massey Energy mine in West Virginia.

The Dotiki mine was at least partially idled in 2004 when a supply tractor caught fire and spread flames to the coal, timbers and other equipment. The 70 miners who were underground were all safely evacuated and the mine returned to full production in about a month.

A worker died outside the mine in 1995 when the bulldozer he was operating fell into a cavity in a coal stock pile. He was buried in coal and suffocated.

Alliance primarily sells coal to electric utilities. It reported 3,090 full-time employees, $1.1 billion in assets and $1.2 billion in total revenues at the end of 2009.

The nation’s worst coal mine disaster in 40 years happened this month in West Virginia, where 29 men died in an explosion inside a mine owned by Massey Energy Co.

Kentucky has had one miner killed this year in a roof fall at a mine in southeastern Kentucky. Travis G. Brock, 29, was working at the Bledsoe Coal Co. at the Abner Branch mine in southern Leslie County.

The state’s worst mine disaster in recent years occurred four years ago when five miners died in at Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County. Two of the miners were killed immediately in the May 20, 2006, blast. Three others died of carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to escape.

Kentucky led the nation in mining deaths last year with six in coal mines and one in a limestone quarry.

The mine accident should serve as a reminder to state officials of the need to fully staff regulatory agencies, said Steve Earl, a regional vice president of United Mine Workers of America.

Beshear said Wednesday that a budget impasse in Frankfort could force a partial government shutdown that could halt, at least temporarily, mine inspections and idle mine rescue teams unless lawmakers reach an agreement on a spending plan before July 1.

Earl called that unacceptable.

“This is not the time for the state of Kentucky to be cutting back on safety inspections and ending mine rescue teams,” he said. “They need to find the money somewhere.”

Lexington attorney Tony Oppegard, a mine safety advocate and former regulator, called the Dotiki rock fall tragic.

“The reality is that most miners die one at a time or a few at a time,” he said. “But it’s just as devastating to the families as when 29 miners die.”

Associated Press Writers Roger Alford in Frankfort, Tim Huber in Charleston, W.Va., Kristin Hall in Nashville, Tenn., and Lucas L. Johnson in Providence contributed to this story.

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