Investigation Into Alabama Mine Explosion Enters Next Phase

Miners have returned to work at the Alabama mine where 13 employees were killed in an explosion in September, as MSHA investigators finish up the site examination phase of their investigation.

Miners have returned to work at the Alabama mine where 13 employees were killed in an explosion in September.

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigators have nearly completed the site examination phase of their investigation into the explosion at Jim Walter Resource Inc.''s Blue Creek No. 5 mine and are now gearing up for the next phase of their probe. The explosion was the deadliest mining accident in the United States since 1984

"MSHA''s accident investigation team has amassed an enormous amount of documentation and records relating to the mine''s safety system and general operating procedures," said Dave Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor - MSHA. "They''ve conducted 70 interviews with miners and have collected hundreds of rock and coal dust samples."

The next critical step, added Lauriski, is for the team to consolidate and analyze all of that data by recreating the events that led up to the September accident

The rock and coal dust samples will help investigators determine the extent of burning that took place underground. Electrical devices, cables and various other items will undergo extensive physical and laboratory testing to determine potential ignition sources. This testing will take place at MSHA''s Safety and Health Technology Center in Bruceton, Pa.

Investigators have completed an extensive evaluation of the mine''s roof. They are expected to reexamine the area where the roof fall occurred, once rock material is removed from the batteries and battery charger.

At approximately 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 23, mine management reported to MSHA that a roof fall had occurred at the mine followed by an ignition of methane gas, and that miners were unaccounted for. MSHA officials went directly to the mine, and rescue teams were sent in.

On the morning of Sept. 24, the rescue teams were withdrawn because conditions in the mine made additional underground rescue efforts impossible due to fires, elevated methane and carbon monoxide. Once the mine was deemed safe, recovery efforts were able to continue.

The miners idled by the explosion have been brought back to work to begin rehabilitation of the mine in areas that are no longer under investigation.

MSHA will release a complete report of its findings once the investigation of the accident is completed.

(For more information about the explosion and subsequent investigation, see related articles "13 Confirmed Dead in Mine Explosion" and "Team Selected to Investigate Fatal Alabama Coal Mine Blast."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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