While investigations into the explosion that killed 12 miners on Monday January 2 are ongoing, mine owner ICG has been kept busy defending its safety record.
The mine was reported for 208 safety violations in 2005, up by 68 from 2004. Both the company and the Mine Safety and Health Administration have defended the rise, attributing it to an 84% increase in on-site inspection and enforcement presence by MSHA.
MSHA said of the 208 violations, none involved “immediate risk of injury” and only three “significant and substantial” violations were outstanding – relating to roof control and not linked to Monday’s explosion.
ICG chief executive Ben Hatfield said company officials had “heard nothing in the course of all this debate about the safety violations that even remotely connects with any possible cause of the explosion”
Before the explosion Hatfield said ICG had rebuilt two miles of primary escapeway, upgraded the mine’s rail transportation system and implemented employee safety training that went beyond legal requirements.
On Wednesday, MSHA released a timeline of events surrounding the disaster. Officials estimated the 12 men trapped inside the mine were alive for at least 44 hours based on communications relayed by rescue workers inside the mine.
According to the timeline, the explosion occurred at 6.30am on January 2; a formal rescue team entered the mine at 5.25pm January 2; and the body of miner Terry Helms was found near the belt drive at 5.18pm on January 3.
At 6.47pm on January 3, rescuers found the seals covering a closed section of the mine had been “blown towards the surface”, which meant, MSHA’s Ray McKinney suggested, the explosion had occurred behind the sealed off area.
At 2.30am on January 4, ICG prepared a statement to inform families that 12 of the miners had been found dead and there was only one survivor. The news was delivered to the families at 3am.
The initial word to families waiting in a nearby local church, that 12 of the miners had been found alive, was attributed by Hatfield as a “misunderstanding”
He said the hard-wired telephone system in the mine had been knocked out in the explosion forcing rescue workers to relay information to the surface. He said that information had to be imparted “four to seven times before it got to the outside”, making the situation a “ripe opportunity” for misunderstanding.