Sago disaster's McAteer report released

DAVITT McAteer, special advisor to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin on the Sago Mine explosion, released a report of his team’s findings Wednesday afternoon at West Virginia Wesleyan University.

Donna Schmidt

The report, which McAteer called “preliminary”, cites lightning as the explosion’s probably cause and that the mine operator could not be “attributed to any specific actions”, according to the report and coverage in American media outlet USA Today.


An investigation taken on jointly by state and federal investigators is still ongoing in the accident which killed 12 miners and left one with serious injuries from gas inhalation.


Five main questions were addressed in the report: the cause of the accident; the reasoning behind the failed seals; the failure of the miners’ self-contained self-rescuers; the length of the rescue effort after the explosion; and what happened to the three shots in the period after the explosion when miners attempted to be heard by those at the surface.


While the Omega seals installed at the Sago mine to block off the inactive sections were not identified as having caused the blast, McAteer and his team did cite the product’s shortcomings that may have caused the deaths. Thursday afternoon, the Mine Safety and Health Administration followed up the report with its own statement, saying it would require a 150% increase in seal strength from 20psi to 50psi.


“The fact is, the seals did not do what they were supposed to do,” McAteer said during a public press conference Wednesday afternoon. He went on to say that, instead of the seals holding back the gas they were “pulverised” in the explosion and made the environment “far more lethal”


The mine’s owner, International Coal Group, concurred with the report’s findings in a March press release: "The seals, constructed of Omega block under a plan approved by MSHA and designed to withstand forces of 20 pounds per square inch, were essentially obliterated by the explosion. Calculations indicate that the explosive forces experienced at each seal were substantially greater than 20psi.” It repeated that stance in a release yesterday responding to McAteer’s report.


In addition to highlighting recommendations in other areas, such as communications, training and refuge, the report outlines the activities of state and federal agencies from the time of the incident to the present day. The public can view a copy of the full 101-page document at by clicking on the “Sago Mine Tragedy” link.


The 12 miners who perished in the January 2 blast were Terry Helms, fireboss/mine examiner; Martin Toler Jr, section foreman; Alva Bennett, continuous mine operator; Fred Ware, continuous miner operator; Jesse Jones, roof bolter operator; Dave Lewis, roof bolter operator; Jerry Groves, roof bolter operator; Tom Anderson, shuttle car operator; George Hamner Jr, shuttle car operator; James Bennett, shuttle car operator; Marshall Winans, scoop operator; and Jackie Weaver, section electrician.


Randal McCloy, the sole survivor, spent a significant amount of time in a hospital and a West Virginia rehabilitation centre before being released and has offered testimony and recollections of the events in investigation efforts.

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