By Vicki Smith
The body of a worker missing since Nov. 30 in a massive West Virginia coal slurry pond was recovered late Friday afternoon, and Consol Energy identified him as an employee of nearly 38 years.
The body of 58-year-old Markel J. Koon of Shinnston was found inside the cab of the bulldozer he was driving when an embankment collapsed, Consol spokeswoman Lynn Seay said.
The bulldozer was swept into the massive Robinson Run prep plant impoundment near Lumberport, along with two pickups and two other men who survived. Lumperport is located southwest of the college town of Morgantown. Locating the bulldozer was a long and complicated process that involved dive teams from Louisiana and a recovery team working from a hastily built platform of barges.
Divers located the bulldozer using a pipe with built-in water jets that pushed away the muck so they could work by touch to determine its orientation and find out whether Koon was still inside. Their initial attempts to cut through the roof well to remove the body failed. But at 4 p.m. Friday, divers finished cutting through the canopy and were able to recover the body.
Koon had worked for Pennsylvania-based Consol for 37 years and nine months. His body has been sent to the West Virginia medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
Consol was working to raise the elevation of the impoundment when the accident happened, but the company and federal investigators have declined to speculate on what caused the failure.
The impoundment encompasses about 78 acres and is estimated to hold at least 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater, the equivalent of more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Slurry is a byproduct of washing coal to help it burn more cleanly. Companies have disposed of the dirty water and solids in various ways over the years, injecting it into abandoned mines, damming it in huge ponds.
In all, there are 596 coal slurry impoundments in 21 states. West Virginia has 114, more than any other state, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.