Bodies of 2 Maryland Miners Found in Collapse

April 23, 2007

Workers last Friday found the bodies of two miners trapped when a wall section collapsed in an open-pit coal mine in western Maryland, a federal mine official said.

One body was found in a backhoe the man was operating Tuesday when the two were buried beneath at least 45 feet of debris, said Bob Cornett, acting regional director for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The second was found a few hours later inside a bulldozer, he said.

Cornett said the men appeared to have died instantaneously.

“With the extensive damage I saw on the equipment, I don’t think that we worried whether they suffocated to death,” he said.

Both pieces of equipment were spotted Thursday night after workers removed thousands of tons of rock and dirt. The vehicles were found side by side. While they were right side up, Cornett said the caterpillar tracks normally under the backhoe had been blown sideways and the blade had come off the bulldozer.

Amy Louviere of MSHA identified the bulldozer operator as Mike Wilt; his age and hometown were not immediately available. She did not identify the second miner, saying there were still some relatives who needed to be notified.

The section of the high wall collapsed at the Tri-Star Mining Inc. site near Barton, about 150 miles west of Baltimore. Trucks hauled about 2,500 tons of debris each hour, with some lengthy delays, from the pile to reach the miners.

“After days of tireless efforts to cut through the rubble and reach the trapped miners, we were saddened to discover that the miners missing since the high-wall collapse on Tuesday morning have died,” Richard E. Stickler, assistant U.S. secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in a statement. “We extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to their families.”

“Now that the rescue and recovery phase has ended, MSHA is moving into its investigation phase of this accident to determine its root cause and prevent such accidents in the future,” Stickler said.

Ambulances were to remove the bodies from the scene, said Cornett, who choked up and wiped tears away as he delivered the news of the second miner’s death.

“Mine safety means a lot to me,” he said. “Every injury, every fatality, affects me.”

The cause of the collapse was under investigation. Cornett said heavy rain and the ground freezing and thawing could be a factor.

He said the investigation would not begin immediately, as it would take time to make sure the site is safe, taking steps such as pulling all the equipment back from the collapsed area. Also, Cornett said, officials needed a break after four days at the site. “People need to rest a little bit,” he added.

The mine had had no fatal injuries since at least 1995 and was not cited for violations in its most recent inspection, which began March 5, according to MSHA. The mine employed 51 people at the end of 2006 and produced nearly 653,000 tons of coal last year.


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