Last year, 21 coal miners died in mining accidents, and eight of them were in Kentucky. I’ve reported on many of these deaths on our website and on the air, but most only after the fact. Two of these mine deaths—the deaths of 47-year-old Darrel Alan Winstead and Samual Joe Lindsey, 23—in a roof fall at an Ohio County mine were reported nearly real-time, as rescuers worked to uncover the men. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released its report into the deaths today.
Winstead and Lindsey were blasters employed by the Mine Equipment and Mill Supply Company, or Memsco. They were working at the Equality Mine, a surface mine owned by Armstrong Coal Company. It was their job to place explosives and detonate them to uncover coal seams, but early in the morning of October 28, 2011, a wall in the mine collapsed and buried the two men in their truck.
Mine employees and rescue crews worked for hours to uncover the men, and for awhile there was hope they had survived. By noon, workers had reached the bodies, and both men were pronounced dead.
In its report, MSHA placed much of the onus for the accident on the mine operator for:
• not employing the proper methods to make sure the highwall was stable;
• not noticing unusual geologic conditions that compromised the highwall’s stability; and
• not developing an adequate training plan to teach workers how to recognize highwall hazards.
The fatality occurred because of a geologic anomaly, located in the portion of the highwall below the #14 coal seam and above the #13 coal seam. The area of the pit where this shows itself also had two intersecting (or nearly intersecting) discontinuities that slid into the pit. The absence of a substantial bench to prevent the massive failure from entering the active pit where miners were working contributed to the death of two miners. The failure by mine management and the mine examiners to examine the site adequately and to recognize the anomaly and its potential failure and the lack of recognition of hazards by the miners were also contributing factors.
The company received five citations for the incident.
So far in 2012, three coal miners in Kentucky have died on the job.