Rescuers Find Bodies of Two W.Va. Miners
Jan. 21, 2006
MELVILLE, W.Va. (AP) _ Rescuers on Saturday found the bodies of two miners who disappeared after a conveyor belt caught fire deep inside a coal mine, bringing to 14 the number of West Virginia miners killed on the job in less than a month.
The bodies were found in an area of the mine where rescue teams had been battling the intense blaze for more than 40 hours. Rescuers could not enter that portion of the mine until the flames had been mostly extinguished and the tunnels cooled down.
``We have found the two miners we were looking for,'' said Doug Conaway, director of the state Office of Miners' Health Training and Safety. ``Unfortunately, we don't have a positive outcome.''
The miners became separated Thursday evening as their 12-member crew tried to escape a conveyor belt fire at Aracoma Coal's Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, about 60 miles southwest of Charleston. The rest of the crew and nine other miners working in a different section of the mine escaped unharmed.
Gov. Joe Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller informed families of the deaths at a church before announcing the deaths, along with Don Blankenship, chairman of Aracoma's owner, Massey Energy.
``We have two brave miners that have perished,'' the governor told reporters.
Saturday's deaths bring to 14 the number of West Virginia miners killed on the job since Jan. 2. Earlier this month, 12 miners died as a result of an explosion at the Sago Mine, more than 180 miles away on the northern side of the state. The sole survivor of that accident remained hospitalized in a light coma Saturday.
The governor pledged to introduce legislation Monday dealing with rapid responses in emergencies, electronic tracking technology and reserve oxygen stations for underground miners. He planned to travel to Washington on Tuesday to discuss the proposals with the state's congressional delegation.
``These two men who perished in this mine, the 12 men who perished in the Sago Mine, I can only say to each of those families ... that they have not died in vain,'' Manchin said.
Conaway said it appeared the two miners made a ``valiant effort'' to get outside, but were blocked by high temperatures and thick smoke.
Rescue workers on the surface of the Aracoma mine got no response Saturday morning when they drilled a 200-foot hole into a mine shaft in an effort to contact the missing miners. Workers pounded on a steel drill bit but heard nothing from below, and a camera and a microphone lowered into the hole detected no sign of them.
Rescue efforts were hampered by intense heat and smoke that cut visibility to 2 to 3 feet in some parts of the mine. Teams were able to get into four tunnels, each about four miles long, but they could not get beyond the burning conveyor belt. Heat from the fire had also caused the roof of the mine to deteriorate.
The victims were identified as Don I. Bragg, 33, and Ellery Hatfield, 47. Both were fathers with more than a decade of mining experience and had worked in the Alma mine for five years.
The two men had been equipped with oxygen canisters that typically produce about an hour's worth of air.
Officials emphasized that there were key differences between the Alma mine fire and the Jan 2. Sago mine explosion. For one, the carbon monoxide levels, while still higher than normal in the Alma mine, were not as severe, Conaway said.
Also, the ventilation system continued to work at the Alma mine and no methane was detected coming out, said Robert Friend, acting deputy assistant secretary for MSHA.
That enabled rescuers to get into the mine more quickly. The gases at the Sago Mine and damage to the ventilation system had prevented investigators from entering the mine until Saturday. It will likely be another week before they can reach the deepest parts of the mine and begin the physical investigation into what caused the explosion, said Ben Hatfield, president of International Coal Group, which owns Sago.
Conveyor belt fires can occur when belt rollers get stuck or out of alignment and rub against the structure supporting them, said John Langton, MSHA's deputy administrator for coal mine safety and health. Another possible cause is the accumulation of coal dust.
Jimmy Marcum, a 54-year-old retired miner from Delbarton, said better equipment is needed to protect miners.
``I mean, they can send a man to the moon but they can't make a (oxygen canister) that will last at least 16 hours. ... That's what they need to do,'' Marcum said.
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