At approximately 10:40 a.m. on Saturday, January 13, 2007, 48-year-old James David Thomas and 33-year-old Pete Poindexter, mobile roof support (MRS) machine operators, were fatally injured when a portion of the mine roof collapsed, pinning both individuals. Thomas and Poindexter had 12 years and 2.5 years of mining experience respectively. Thomas and Poindexter were repositioning MRS machines after the completion of the third lift in the #3 entry while performing retreat mining on the North Section. The slicken-sided portion of the mine roof that collapsed measured approximately 8 feet in width by 9 feet in length and was up to 18 inches thick.
On Saturday, January 13, 2007, at approximately 6:30 a.m., the C-crew, under the direction of Richard Baugh, section foreman, traveled to the North Section (Mechanized Mining Units 001 and 002). The North Section was conducting retreat mining, or second mining, of the coal pillars which remained after initial development. After arriving on the section, Baugh and the crew met at the section power center where they had prayer and a short safety meeting. After the meeting, he conducted a 30 CFR 75.362 on-shift examination of the pillar line.
After the examination, Baugh returned to the #4 entry, just outby the pillar line. He instructed the crew to mine 3-lifts in the #4 entry and then proceed to the #3 entry. No problems were encountered during mining.
The MRS machines were moved and set-up to begin mining the coal pillars from the #3 entry inby survey spad station 1037. Christopher Bowman, continuous mining machine operator, and Everett D. Perry, continuous mining machine helper, moved the continuous mining machine into the #3 entry and extracted the first lift from the coal pillar located on the left side of the entry (pillar number 107). Next, Thomas and Poindexter moved MRS #1 outby (away from the face) approximately 8 feet. During this time, Eustace "Buck" Perry, General Mine Foreman, was on the North Section to take seam height measurements and determine if extensions were needed for the MRS machines.
Bowman and Everett Perry moved the continuous mining machine and mined the second lift from the coal pillar located on the right side of the entry (pillar number 106). While the second lift was being mined, Eustace Perry, Baugh, Thomas, and Poindexter were located in the cross cut between the #3 and #2 entries just outby the blocks of coal being mined. Upon completion of the lift, Thomas and Poindexter moved MRS #2 outby approximately 8 feet. Baugh traveled into the #3 entry just behind Thomas and Poindexter to watch the mine roof while the MRS machines were being repositioned. Baugh normally did this while the MRS machines were being repositioned. The movement of MRS #2 placed the outby end of the machine approximately 5 feet inby the outby corner of the second lift. The outby end of both of the mobile roof support machines were almost side-by-side.
Bowman and Everett Perry moved the continuous mining machine and mined the third lift from the coal pillar located on the left side of the entry. The third lift was advanced approximately 7.5 feet deeper than the maximum distance allowed in the approved roof control plan. This condition did not contribute to the accident, and therefore a section 104(a) citation was issued under another inspection event.
Bowman and Everett Perry moved the continuous mining machine outby the last open cross cut in the #3 entry. Both MRS machines had green lights illuminated, indicating the canopies of the machines were pressurized against the mine roof. Bowman repositioned the continuous mining machine trailing cable while Everett Perry left the area to retrieve his lunch. Eustace Perry walked from the crosscut between the #2 and #3 entries, and began to talk to Bowman.
Thomas and Poindexter traveled up the #3 entry and repositioned MRS #1. Baugh was located immediately behind Thomas and Poindexter, near the outby corner of lift 3. Thomas had the radio-remote control transmitter that was used to operate the MRS machines. This transmitter enabled the equipment operator to operate the MRS machines while standing in a safe location. The MRS machines trailing cables were suspended from the mine roof with single strand rubber coated #14 copper wire attached to roof bolt plates. One of the tie wires had been twisted too tight and would not allow the MRS #1 machine trailing cable to drop freely from a roof bolt plate.
Poindexter traveled inby to within 5 feet of MRS #1 and untwisted the tie wire to free the machine's trailing cable. Poindexter then walked outby near Thomas and Baugh. The three miners were approximately 15 feet outby MRS #1 and #2. Using the remote control, Thomas released MRS #1 from the mine roof, while the miners were positioned inby the outby corner of the previously mined third lift. This was in an effort to reposition the machine for the next lift to be mined.
At the same time, Kevin Hale, #2 shuttle car operator, stopped his shuttle car and walked up the #3 entry. As Hale walked up the #3 entry, he saw the mine roof sagging and taking weight. At approximately 10:40 a.m. he started to signal and shout, as a portion of the mine roof fell. When the mine roof fell, Thomas and Poindexter were pinned and Baugh, whose hand was resting on the mine roof, was nearly struck. The falling mine roof caused Baugh's hand to drop away from the mine roof.
Eustace Perry traveled to the roof fall as Hale ran outby past the continuous mining machine and #2 shuttle car. Eustace Perry immediately instructed Bowman to reposition MRS #3 and #4 that were located in the last open crosscut between the #3 and #4 entries. Bowman moved MRS #3 and #4 from the #4 side of the cross cut to the #3 side of the cross cut and pressurized the machines against the mine roof. Eustace Perry then had Bowman to pressurize MRS #1 against the mine roof, which was in a lowered position, 6 to 8 inches from the mine roof.
The remaining crew members traveled to the roof fall and set temporary roof supports (timbers and cribs) to ensure no additional roof falls would occur. The fallen mine roof rock was moved, the victims were recovered and transported by the McDowell County Emergency Authority and the Wideners Ambulance Service to Welch Hospital.