At 10:43 a.m. on Friday, August 10, 2007 an accident involving a fatal fall of persons occurred at the Gibson County Coal, LLC., Gibson Mine, North Portal 2 shaft sinking site, resulting in the deaths of two employees and one retired employee of Frontier-Kemper Constructors, Inc., an independent contractor.
The accident occurred when the three men were being lowered inside the sinking bucket into the shaft to observe the bottom station concrete work. A nylon sling and shackle attached to the bottom of the sinking bucket lodged into a shaft collar door, thereby tipping the sinking bucket. This resulted in the men falling from the bucket to the bottom of the shaft, a distance of approximately 550 feet. At the time of the accident, the shaft had not yet been connected to the underground mine workings.
The accident occurred as a result of Frontier-Kemper’s failure to ensure the hoist was under the control of the hoistman at all times when persons were in the shaft. The toplander was not at his station as the bucket was being lowered through the shaft collar doors and the hoistman had no visual contact with the bucket at this point. The hoistman lost control of the bucket when the nylon sling and shackle entangled with the shaft collar door. The independent contractor also failed to ensure that adequate fall protection was utilized while persons were transported in the sinking bucket.
Crew A, led by George Foster, Walker Boss, began work as usual at 8:00 a.m. on the day of the accident. Foster, Greg Clevidence (Miner/Driller), Chris Girten (Mucker Operator), Daren Stout (Miner/Driller), Jerry Rhodes, Jr. (Miner/Driller), and Cody Robinson (Miner/Driller) entered the shaft shortly after starting time. The scheduled work in the shaft that day was to "spade tights," which involved manually removing rock from the shaft wall that protruded excessively into the concrete pour area and to otherwise prepare for a concrete pour. Work proceeded normally, with 2 pieces of 6-inch angle iron being called for and subsequently lowered in a bucket, using a nylon sling and shackle attached to the bottom of the sinking bucket. Cody Robinson exited the shaft at approximately 10:30 a.m. to drop off some parts.
On the surface, Jarred Ashmore, Project Engineer, was assisting and supervising Frank Peavler, Parts Runner, and Cliff Schass, Electrician, in building forms for two work deck hoist platforms. This was being done in preparation for splitting the work decks to construct the curtain wall from the shaft bottom to the collar, since the shaft had reached its approximate designed depth.
On the day of the accident, Frontier-Kemper was celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Kemper Construction Company and had several guests from their Evansville, Indiana headquarters as well as from their parent company, Deilmann-Haniel International Mining and Tunneling GmbH, on site being trained in preparation for a tour of the surface facilities. Christopher (Todd) Richardson, Mine Development Division Manager for Frontier-Kemper, and Daniel McFadden, Retired Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Frontier-Kemper, requested to view the operations in the shaft. Ashmore met with them, and after ensuring that Peavler and Schass could continue building the concrete forms, Ashmore, Richardson and McFadden boarded the sinking bucket for a trip to the shaft bottom. Dennis Splittorff, Toplander, reportedly rang the appropriate code to have the bucket raised to clear both the bucket and nylon sling above the collar doors. Splittorff then opened the collar doors, signaled to have the sinking bucket lowered and then resumed cleaning bolts in the top shack.
Charles (Chuck) Crandell, Hoistman, began lowering the bucket. He stated he saw the hoist rope move in an unusual manner and stopped the hoist. He next called Splittorff and asked him to look and see if anything was wrong. At the same time, John Branson, Master Mechanic, and Robinson reportedly heard a clang and saw the ropes slackening or "shaking" and ran to the shaft collar. Branson then went in the freeze cellar to get a better view of the bucket and saw that the bucket was inverted and empty. On the work deck, approximately 570 feet below the collar, Foster and Girten reportedly saw objects falling and moved to protected positions. They next heard an impact noise on the work deck. They moved from their separate positions behind the concrete forms and saw that Ashmore was lying on the work deck. Rhodes stated he saw a second victim (later identified as McFadden) had fallen through the hoist well in the work deck and onto the shaft bottom. Branson, who was on the surface, called on the mine phone to the work deck and asked if everyone was alright. Foster informed him that all those working at the shaft bottom were uninjured, but there were two men fatally injured. Branson called Crandell on the mine phone and had him bring the bucket up slowly. Branson removed the sling and shackle from the bottom of the bucket. The sinking bucket was then lowered to bring Crew A from the bottom of the shaft.
Kyle Wooten, Project Manager, and Rhodes subsequently traveled to the shaft bottom so Wooten could verify the victims’ conditions. They located the third victim (Richardson) who was on the shaft bottom next to the concrete forms and shaft wall. Richardson had apparently fallen between the work deck and the forms.
George Zugel, Corporate Safety Director, notified the MSHA call center of the accident at 10:53 a.m. CDT. Jeff Williams, MSHA Roof Control Specialist, learned of the possibility of an accident when he returned to the surface after conducting normal inspection activities at the Gibson Mine. Williams traveled to the North Portal 2 site and immediately issued a 103(k) Order at 11:25 a.m. Mark Odom, Mike Rennie and Ron Stahlhut, MSHA Supervisors arrived on the scene a short time later. The Gibson County Coal mine rescue team was also called to the site and assisted in the recovery of the victims.
Stahlhut had the hoist rope and attachments thoroughly checked before lowering anyone into the shaft for recovery work. A team was assembled to perform the recovery work. This team consisted of Rennie, Stahlhut, Don "Blink" McCorkle, Deputy Commissioner, Indiana Bureau of Mines, and Terry Phegley and Rod Dilbeck from the Gibson County Coal mine rescue team. This team entered the shaft at 1:25 p.m. and began recovering the victims. The first victim arrived on the surface at 1:56 p.m., and the recovery work was completed with the removal of the third victim at 3:09 p.m.