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Methane detector disabled at W.Va. mine

July 15, 2010 at 2:04 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) -- Reports say survivors of a West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 workers said an electrician disabled a methane detector weeks before the deadly blast.

"Everybody was getting mad because the continuous miner kept shutting off because there was methane," Rickey Lee Campbell, a coal shuttle driver and roof bolter, told National Public Radio in an interview. "So, they shut the section down and the electrician got into the methane detector box and rewired it so we could continue to run coal."

A continuous miner is a gigantic automated coal mining machine that bores into the coal face and breaks up and collects the coal.

ABC News said Campbell, who lost his job, has filed a whistleblower claim against Massey Energy, owners of the Upper Big Branch mine near Beckley, W.Va., where 29 miners died in the April 5 blast.

NPR's interviews with Campbell and two other explosion survivors, who asked to remain anonymous, were broadcast Thursday. One said the electrician had to ask for instructions on how to disable the defector.

All three said the disabled safety device would have forced an immediate evacuation of the mine had it detected a buildup of deadly methane gas.

Massey Energy confirmed to ABC that the incident described by the survivors "may have occurred," but said the detector was malfunctioning and was not disabled to prevent methane gas readings.

"Massey strongly forbids any improper conduct relating to any and all safety devices designed to protect the health and safety of company members," Massey said in an e-mail to ABC News.

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