Entries in Upper Big Branch Mine (5)


Convicted West Virginia Mine Supervisor Sentenced to 21 Months

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Nearly three years after one of the deadliest mining disasters in modern times, another top official from the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia is going to prison.

Former superintendent Gary May was sentenced Thursday to 21 months after he was convicted last year of falsifying records, disabling a methane gas monitor and tipping off workers ahead of inspections at the mine.

Twenty-nine workers were killed by an explosion at the mine in April 2010.  Prosecutors said that the blast was the result of then-owner Massey Energy allowing methane and dust to build up.

Last year, former Upper Big Branch security chief Hughie Elbert Stover got three years in prison for lying to investigators.  He failed to win his case on appeal and is now in jail.

The mine's new owner, Alpha Natural Resources, is also paying $210 million in damages as the result of the deadly explosion.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Final Report on Probe into Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Released

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(CHARLESTON, W.Va.) -- The state of West Virginia Thursday released what is expected to be the final report on the investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 people in April 2010.  

The report, like three others, says a methane explosion at the mine was exacerbated by coal dust.  Massey Energy -- owner of the Upper Big Branch mine -- favored production over safety and failed to properly rock dust the mine, according to the report.
The state issued 253 citations against the coal company. Those violations were for improper ventilation, equipment problems, and personnel issues pertaining to the foreman or fireboss, among other areas.

The explosion at Upper Big Branch has been called the worst U.S. mining disaster in nearly 40 years.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Massey Energy At Fault In Fatal West Virginia Mine Explosion

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- An independent report issued Thursday blames mine operator Massey Energy for last year's deadly West Virginia coal mine explosion that claimed the lives of 29 men.

The report lists three major safety violations:

  • Not enough ventilation to clear dangerous gases.
  • Too much coal dust which, when ignited, causes a powerful explosion.
  • Water sprayers on the coal cutting machine were inadequate. Out of 30 nozzles on one part of the machine, seven were missing. Of 23 on another part, nine nozzles were clogged. The spray of water would have prevented any ignition.

According to the report, the mining machine hit a rock and created a spark, which ignited a pocket of gas. The crew saw it and shut down the machine, the report says, but the fireball moved and hit the coal dust. It was not one explosion, but a series of massive blasts that spanned two miles of the mine, the report says.

While Massey Energy is the main party at fault, the report also criticizes federal and state regulators for "failing to use all the tools at their disposal" to protect the miners.

Of the 29 dead, 19 died of carbon monoxide intoxication. The other 10 fatalities stemmed from injuries caused by the blast.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


One Year Later: West Virginia Miners' Families Seek Answers, Healing

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images(MONTCOAL, W.Va.) -- One year after an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, W.Va., killing 29 men, survivors say they're still searching for answers amid what remains an overwhelming sense of loss.

"There just ain't no peace out there right now. There just isn't," said Charles Davis, 76, who lost his son Timmy, 51, and grandsons, Cory, 21, and Joshua, 27, in the accident.  "My boy, he was everything," he said, fighting back tears. "I can't look at the pictures. I can't say their names. The only thing I'd like to know is why it happened. I'm still waiting."

Federal and state investigators, initially hampered by lingering toxic gas, standing water and debris inside the blown-out mine, still have not released an official report on the cause of the explosion. But sources close to the investigation say a buildup of methane or natural gas in the mine shaft, ignited by a spark from a piece of mining machinery and fueled by combustible dust swirling in the air, was likely to blame.

The Upper Big Branch mine accident was the country's deadliest in more than 40 years.

Officials with Massey Energy, which owns the mine, have said an unexpected flood of gas seeping from an underground crack probably overwhelmed the mine's ventilation system just before the explosion.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which enforces U.S. mine safety standards, however, has said Massey may have failed to follow the law. The company racked up more than 1,300 safety violations over the past five years, including 80 in the past month alone, MSHA records show. Many were deemed willful or gross negligence. And as recent as one month before the accident, records show inspectors cited the company for high levels of explosive dust, poor ventilation and flawed escape route plans at the Upper Big Branch facility.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


W.Va. Governor Remembers Upper Big Branch Miners Killed One Year Ago

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(CHARLESTON, W.Va.) -- West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is planning on Tuesday to observe a day of prayer and remembrance for the 29 men killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine one year ago.  Tomblin issued a proclamation last Friday requesting that statewide observances honoring the victims begin Tuesday at 3:01 p.m.

"One year ago, 29 hard-working miners perished," Tomblin said in a written statement.  "In their memory, I request that every church in our state ring its bell 29 times at 3:01 p.m."

The governor noted that 3:01 p.m. is the estimated time of the Upper Big Branch explosion.

Gov. Tomblin will also lay a wreath at the Miner's Statue on W. Va. State Capitol grounds.  Later Tuesday evening, the governor plans to attend a memorial service in Whiteville, W. Va. with the families of the dead miners.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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