West Virginia mine safety officials said Monday they would rewrite parts of their report on the Sago Mine disaster after families of the dead miners raised questions and concerns about its conclusions.

It concludes the Jan. 2 methane gas explosion in a mined-out and sealed off area was nearly five times more powerful than the foam block seals were able to withstand.

While investigators believe an unusually powerful lightning strike triggered the blast, the report says additional testing is needed to determine how it traveled more than 2 miles to spark the explosion inside the mine.

Several relatives of the 12 miners who died after the January blast walked out of a private briefing in apparent frustration, one in tears, as state officials laid out the report for them and Gov. Joe Manchin. Afterward, most refused to speak to reporters, and several said they had been instructed by state officials not to comment.

Though the families left with copies of the 2-inch-thick report, the state hastily canceled a news conference and meeting of the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety, claiming the report was a draft that would likely be changed.

A copy obtained by The Associated Press, however, contains a transmittal letter that says the document “represents the final report of the agency on this matter.”

Caryn Gresham, spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, said the families wanted additional explanations of some technical issues, which she did not specify.

Manchin said he was disappointed with the report and had expected a more detailed presentation.

“I wasn’t satisfied with the report, with what was done. ... I was just frustrated,” the governor said. “I think the agency could have and should have done a better job.”

A second briefing was tentatively set for Monday, Dec. 18.

One crew escaped after the blast, but a second deeper inside the mine became trapped. One miner died in the blast, while 11 others succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped more than 40 hours.

Only Randal McCloy Jr. was found alive. He attended Monday’s meeting at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon but left without speaking to reporters.

International Coal Group Inc., which owns the mine, did not immediately comment.

The area where the blast occurred had been sealed off less than a month before with 10 block walls built to withstand forces of 20 pounds per square inch, the federal standard. The seals were destroyed in the explosion, which the report said was closer to 95 psi and may have exceeded 100 psi.

Up to 400,000 cubic feet of methane gas was in the sealed-off section, the report said.

In July, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered that all seals in the nation’s 650 underground mines must now withstand 50 psi.

Other possible causes of the explosion were dismissed. Investigators found no evidence for an open flame from a cigarette lighter or mining equipment and none for spontaneous combustion from coal.

Although rare, lightning strikes have caused previous underground explosions in worked-out sections of mines that had been sealed. But some metal conduit was identified in those incidents, according to a 2001 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith said the labor union still doubts what he termed a “cockamamie” lightning theory. But if the state decides lightning caused the explosion, it should draft regulations to require miners to be evacuated when storms approach underground mines, he said.

The report also faulted the emergency air packs the miners carried, saying they “did not perform in the manner expected.”

McCloy has said that four members of his trapped crew could not get their air packs to work. The report said 12 air packs recovered from the crew produced oxygen, but suggested miners need better training on how to use the devices.

ICG has acknowledged one miner carried an air pack that was several months past its 10-year life span and investigators found evidence that other air packs at Sago had been poorly inspected.

The condition “hints that daily inspections were not conducted or at least were not done rigorously,” the report said. “This combined with no mention of the need to do daily inspections by any of those interviewed indicate a likely lack of emphasis on this aspect.”

In September, the state cited ICG after finding six miners carrying air packs that should have failed daily inspections at Sago.

New federal and state regulations now require better training as well as stockpiles of air packs underground.

The report lists more than 50 recommendations, many of them already addressed by the new state regulations that went into effect in June.

Other recommendations — including the development of underground rescue shelters, improved two-way communication and tracking systems that keep tabs on miners — are to be implemented in early 2007.

Underground communication became an issue when false reports indicted that rescue teams had found 12 miners alive. That information was leaked to the hundreds of family and friends holding vigil outside the mine. The misinformation wasn’t corrected for about two hours.

The report also suggests more answers might be forthcoming from the federal MSHA report, due early next year.

Associated Press writer April Vitello in Buckhannon and Lawrence Messina in Charleston also contributed to this report.

Trending Video

Recommended for you