Miners killed in West Virginia were removing coal pillars holding up roof

Company says miners were killed in West Virginia by a "coal burst" as they removed pillars holding up the roof.
By Frances Burns   |   May 14, 2014 at 3:06 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va., May 14 (UPI) -- Federal and state regulators are investigating the death of two West Virginia coal miners engaged in a practice known as "retreat mining."

Eric D. Legg, 48, of Twilight, a machine operator, and Gary P. Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville, a roof bolter, died Monday night at Brody Mine No. 1 near Wharton, owned by Patriot Coal. Officials say they were removing coal pillars holding up the mine roof when they were hit by what a Patriot spokeswoman described as a "severe coal burst."

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the Brody mine last year for a "pattern of violations," saying there had been more than 250 significant violations of safety regulations in the year ending Aug. 31, 2013. Patriot, headquartered in St. Louis, said many of the violations occurred before it acquired the mine at the end of 2012.

Coal bursts, as opposed to roof falls, come from pressure from outside on the mine walls or roofs. Retreat mining is considered especially dangerous, and Tony Oppegard, a former MHSA staff member now practicing law in Kentucky, told the Charleston Gazette it is "the most dangerous type of mining."

"Compliance with the pillar removal plan is essential," Oppegard said. "The plan must be followed religiously because even the slightest deviation can have devastating consequences. In almost every retreat mining fatality that I'm aware of, failure to comply with the pillar plan was the cause of the accident."

Five coal miners have now died on the job this year in the United States, three of them in West Virginia.

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