At 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 3, 2005, Russell Cole, a 39-year old section foreman with 11 years of mining experience and Brandon Wilder, a 23-year old scoop operator with 36 weeks of mining experience were fatally injured at Stillhouse Mining LLC's Mine No. 1.
The second shift crew was conducting retreat mining on the 003 mechanized mining unit (MMU). After mining the final lifts of a pillar, the crew was moving the four mobile roof support units (MRS) to the next location to be mined. While they were moving the MRS units, a roof fall occurred in the intersection. Eyewitnesses reported that Cole and Wilder were last seen standing beside the No. 2 MRS inby the intersection. After the fall, workers called out to Cole and Wilder, but there was no response. Wilder's body was recovered on Thursday, August 4, 2005, and pronounced dead by Harlan County Deputy Coroner Gerald Scott at 5:30 a.m. Cole's body was recovered on Sunday, August 7, 2005, and pronounced dead by the Deputy Coroner at 7:18 a.m.
The accident occurred because of a confluence of factors, including failures to comply with the approved Roof Control Plan, training, faulty pillar recovery methods, and failure to correct hazardous conditions.
On August 2, 2005, at approximately 11:00 p.m., Mark Shelton, third shift mine foreman, instructed Shawn Brock, third shift 003 MMU section foreman, on the procedures for setting up the section for a projected 90-degree change in pillar recovery direction as 003 MMU retreated out of the 1 Left Panel and into the Submains. Brock understood that he was to set up the 003 MMU so that pillars could be recovered from left to right across the submains, beginning with the last pillar on the right side of the 1 Left Panel. Later that night, Brock's crew pulled the 003 MMU power center and beltline back and started to set up the mining equipment for the change in direction. However, this task was not completed at the end of the shift.
At approximately 7:00 a.m., the first shift 003 MMU crew entered the mine and traveled to the section. Doyle Coldiron, first shift 003 MMU section foreman, checked the working places. The crew positioned the MRS units and the continuous mining machine to begin pillar recovery of the last pillar on the right side the 1 Left Panel. Instead of recovering pillars across the Submains from this point, Coldiron intended to recover the last row of pillars from the 1 Left Panel, mining from right to left across the panel.
Ken Grubbs, first shift continuous mining machine operator, began mining, alternating lifts to the left and right from the 1 Left Panel No. 4 entry (cuts A and B, as shown on the Accident Site sketch on page ii). After the fourth lift (B) was mined to the right of the entry, the conveyor belt stopped. At this time they moved the continuous mining machine around the second outby block to re-route the cable and set breaker timbers in the last open crosscut between the Submains Nos. 1 and 2 entries. After the belt was started, they mined three more lifts (B) to the right of the No. 4 entry and two lifts straight off the inby end of the Submains No. 1 entry. Grubbs mined the lifts to a maximum depth of approximately 30 feet in order to prevent draw rock from falling on the continuous mining machine. At the end of the shift, the continuous mining machine was parked in the second to last crosscut between the Submains Nos. 1 and 2 entries.
At approximately 3:00 p.m., the second shift 003 MMU crew entered the mine and traveled to the section. John Lee, second shift continuous mining machine operator, checked the continuous mining machine and then mined alternating left and right lifts (C) from the Submains No. 1 entry. The MRS units were moved as the lift sequence advanced. At about the time that the second lift was being mined, Bill Nantz, shuttle car operator, noticed that the roof was working in the Submains No.1 entry, outby the intersection with the No. 3 entry of the 1 Left Panel. He informed James Boggs, MRS operator/roof bolting machine operator, of the condition.
Boggs began checking test holes in the intersection. He checked two 6-foot test holes by inserting a metal tape into the hole and no hazards were detected. He then checked a 12 foot test hole in the affected intersection and found a separation at 11 feet and 5 inches, where his tape would hang on a crack. Boggs told Cole about the crack. Cole checked the 12-foot test hole, but took no corrective action and made no further mention to Boggs on the matter. Boggs continued checking to see if the separation was widening after every two or three shuttle cars, by letting the end of the tape hang on the bottom of the separation and then pushing the tape up to the top of the crack. While mining was being conducted on each side of the Submains No. 1 entry, Boggs told Gary Rutherford, acting second shift mine foreman, about the crack and Rutherford indicated no concern regarding the condition. Mining continued, alternating between the left and right lifts from the Submains No. 1 entry. The MRS units were moved as each lift (C) was completed.
The continuous mining machine was then positioned in the No. 3 entry of the 1 Left Panel, where the crew mined lifts (D) from the remainder of the pillar to the right of the entry. During this time, the Nos. 1 and 2 MRS units were located in the 1 Left Panel No. 3 entry and were moved outby with each lift, while the Nos. 3 and 4 MRS units were stationary across the Submains No. 1 entry. As the continuous mining machine was backing out of the final cut (D), a piece of draw rock, approximately 18 inches thick by 7 feet long, fell off the machine onto the mine floor of the 1 Left panel No. 3 entry, in front of the No. 1 MRS (which was located on the left side of the entry, adjacent to the solid pillar).
Boggs and Bobby Gross, shuttle car operator, began moving the Nos. 1 and 2 MRS units forward. They advanced the No.1 MRS to the fallen draw rock. The No. 2 MRS was then moved completely past the No. 1 MRS, to the edge of the intersection. When they then attempted to push the fallen draw rock with the No. 1 MRS, the draw rock wedged between the coal rib and the No. 2 MRS track, with the No. 1 MRS still located completely inby the No. 2 MRS.
They next began moving the Nos. 3 and 4 MRS units out of the Submains No. 1 entry. Boggs lowered the No. 3 MRS, moved it forward into the intersection, and spun the unit so that the cable was facing the pillared portion of the 1 Left Panel. At this point, the unit lost traction in loose material on the mine floor. Cole started the No. 3 MRS on manual and freed the unit. Gross then took remote control of the No. 3 MRS and moved it to the midpoint of the crosscut between the Submains Nos. 1 and 2 entries. Boggs then lowered the No. 4 MRS and moved it into the intersection. He spun the MRS and began moving it into the crosscut behind the No. 3 MRS. Hatfield and Nantz met Gross and Boggs in the crosscut to help them continue moving the Nos. 3 and 4 MRS units.
At this time, 9:30 p.m., Cole and Wilder were standing beside the No. 2 MRS, with Cole at the manual controls, when the mine roof fell. The fall extended from the front of the No. 1 MRS, through the intersection, and 13 feet into the crosscut to the back of the No. 4 MRS. Gross looked toward Cole and Wilder as the MRS lights disappeared beneath the falling rock.
Boggs, Gross, Hatfield, and Nantz ran out of the crosscut. Suspended dust from the roof fall limited their visibility. They yelled for Cole and Wilder, but heard no response. Noise from the still operating No. 2 MRS hydraulic motor hampered their ability to listen for Cole and Wilder. Gross went to the mine telephone and called for help. Boggs tried to start the No. 4 MRS to raise it against the mine roof, but the power for the No. 4 MRS was de-energized. He then tried to shut off the No. 2 MRS by remote control, but it would not stop. Lee went to the power center and de-energized the breaker, which shut off the No. 2 MRS. Boggs, Hatfield, and Lee then went around the pillar to check for Cole and Wilder. However, the roof fall blocked all access to the intersection. There was still no sign of Cole and Wilder.