Rescuers were delayed for days in their search for the missing miners in the Upper Big Branch South coal mine in Whitesville, W.Va. Hazardous gases and a fire forced rescuers to turn back as families held out hope that the miners had managed to access an emergency chamber containing food, water and oxygen.
According to media reports, the four missing were found near other fallen miners and did not appear to have attempted to locate emergency supplies, indicating they were killed quickly by the blast. Crews are now working to recover all remaining bodies from the mine.
“We remained hopeful the four missing miners would have been found alive,” said Massey Energy Co. Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship following the announcement of the additional fatalities. “I personally met with many of the families throughout the week and share their grief at this very painful time.”
Blankenship stressed that Massey Energy is working “diligently with state and federal authorities to try to determine the cause of this tragic explosion as quickly as possible.”
Blankenship and Massey Energy have faced backlash in recent days as the mine operator’s numerous safety violations – including those involving methane gas, which likely played a role in the explosion – have surfaced.
MSHA to Investigate
A team of MSHA mine safety professionals from outside the district responsible for enforcement at the Upper Big Branch South Mine will evaluate all aspects of the accident, including potential causes and the operator's compliance with federal health and safety standards.
“The investigation team will work tirelessly to evaluate all aspects of this accident to identify the cause of the disaster,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA Joseph A. Main.
MSHA will issue a formal report to summarize the findings and conclusions of the investigative team, identifying root causes of the accident and how the incident unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that existed will be cited at the conclusion of the investigation.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said that the best way to honor the fallen miners is for MSHA “to do its job with the utmost integrity and thoroughness.”
“The investigative team will now begin its important work to determine exactly what happened, and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main and I will meet with the president to discuss what actions the administration can take to prevent further tragedies in this industry,” Solis said.
“Although details of the catastrophe are unclear at this time, we do know this: Mine explosions are preventable, miners should never have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihood, and all workers deserve to come home to their families at the end of their shift safe and whole,” she said.
Honoring the Miners
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony in Charleston, W.Va., to honor the 29 dead and two injured miners. The ceremony begins at 3:30 p.m. EDT on April 12 at the Coal Miner Memorial Statue, located on the state capitol grounds near the Culture Center.
During the event, the governor will ask people from across the nation to participate in a moment of silence to honor the fallen miners and their families.
“We want to show the miners’ families and all of the first responders that we are keeping them in our hearts and prayers,” Manchin said. “West Virginians are the most caring people and we come together in a time of need. These families are not alone and their loved ones will not be forgotten.”
This event is open to the public. April 12 marks the one-week anniversary of the mining disaster.