The Times West Virginian

May 17, 2014

Possible miscommunication in mine deaths

By Jonathan Mattise
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — Safety officials are investigating possible miscommunications from a coal mining company that initially said two workers who had been trapped in a mine were OK. The workers were later pronounced dead.  

State mine safety official Eugene White said miscommunication was possible in initial emergency calls by Patriot Coal.  The St. Louis-based company gave state and federal officials similar reports that didn’t include fatalities at its Boone County underground mine.

In the company’s first call to those officials Monday, Patriot Coal safety manager Justin Ray said the miners were “OK at this point.”  

Government and company officials later said the Brody Mine No. 1 workers were killed during a severe coal burst, where high-speed coal is shot at anyone in the way.

White said Ray was at home when he called the state’s emergency line at 8:47 p.m. Ray called the federal line just beforehand.

“I don’t know how many people this information went through to get to Mr. Justin Ray,” said White, director of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. “Once we do the interview process, we’re going to check into this. And maybe it will become a little bit clearer exactly what happened.”

The first federal mine safety inspectors arrived at 10:05 p.m. By 11 p.m., the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration learned the two men had died, said administration spokesman Jesse Lawder.

White said the report didn’t necessarily change how officials responded.

“The fact that they’re trapped, that still is something that makes us respond,” White said.

Both state and federal mine officials are investigating the incident.