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District 9

Surface Coal Mine

Fatal Fall of Material Accident

Belle Ayr Mine (48-00732)
Amax Coal West, Inc.
Gillette, Campbell County, Wyoming

Eldridge Excavation, Inc. (X3L)
Gillette, Campbell County, Wyoming

July 27, 1995


James M. Beam
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Douglas E. Liller
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
Coal Mine Safety and Health, District 9
P. O. Box 25367, Denver, Colorado 80225-0367
John A. Kuzar, District Manager

General Information

The Belle Ayr Mine is a surface coal mine located 18 miles south of Gillette, Campbell County, Wyoming. The mine employs 236 persons and is owned and operated by Amax Coal West, Incorporated (Amax) of Englewood, Colorado. The mine operates two 12-hour shifts per day, seven days per week, and produces an average of 50,000 tons of coal per day. The coal is transported by rail to midwest and eastern markets.

The Wyodak seam averages 80 feet in thickness throughout the reserves and is classified as sub-bituminous with an average heat content of 8,500 British Thermal Units per pound. Overburden averages 215 feet and is removed by truck/shovel operations. Coal is loaded by electric shovels and transported by 240-ton trucks to the crushing facilities located at the preparation plant.

Principal officials for Amax Coal West, Inc. (Amax) at the Belle Ayr Mine are:

Thomas J. Lien . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Vice President and General Manager
Steven R. Laird . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Manager Loss Prevention

Principal official for Eldridge Excavation, Inc. (Eldridge):

Dave Eldridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Owner

Principal official for Fletchers Cobre Tire (Fletchers):

John Larson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Manager

The accident occurred at Eldridge's storage area, which was located on mine property, adjacent to the mine's "Boneyard Storage." Eldridge is an independent contractor (X3L), hired by Amax to perform pit dewatering services at the Belle Ayr Mine. Eldridge employees are at the mine on a daily basis to perform this work. The pipe, which was being unloaded at the time of the accident, was being delivered to Eldridge for use in their dewatering activities. Eldridge's employee, Jerry Hathaway, met Ralph Paddock, victim and independent trucker, at the mine gate and accompanied him to the storage area. Hathaway was present at the time of the accident when the pipe was being unloaded.

Fletcher's is an independent contractor (C50), that distributes Bridgestone and Michelin off-the-road tires, and is under contract to Amax to provide tires and maintenance services for equipment at the Belle Ayr Mine. A Fletchers service representative is at the mine one shift a day, seven days a week.

Fletcher employee, Tom Dorethy, operated the Caterpillar forklift that was being used to unload the pipe at the time of the accident. Fletcher owned this forklift, which was regularly used during the course of their tire work at the mine.

The latest Mine Safety and Health Administration Safety and Health Inspection was conducted from March 8 to 15, 1995.

Description of Accident

On Thursday, July 27, 1995, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Ralph Paddock, victim and an independent trucker hauling for the Bob Boyd Trucking Company, Livingston, Montana, arrived at the Belle Ayr Mine with a load of ninety 8-inch diameter black poly pipes for use in pit dewatering. The pipes were 40 feet long with nine pipes strapped together per bundle. The trailer had five tiers of bundles with two bundles on each tier. The bottom three tiers were held in place by three tiedown straps. Four additional tiedown straps secured the entire load to the bed of the truck. When these four straps were loosened, only the top two tiers of pipes were freed.

At approximately 9:35 a.m., Bob Davis, Amax crew coordinator, was notified of Paddock's load of pipe at the main gate. Davis notified Jerry Hathaway, an employee for Eldridge, of Paddock's arrival. Hathawy met Paddock at the gate and escorted him to the North Pit "Boneyard Storage" area for unloading. At this time, Davis notified Tom Dorethy, an employee for Fletchers, of Paddock's arrival. Dorethy took the Caterpillar V180B forklift to the storage area to unload the pipe. Dorethy routinely performed this task.

At approximately 9:55 a.m., Dorethy arrived with the forklift and discussed with Paddock the method to be used to unload the pipe. He told Paddock that he would unload the top two tiers first. Dorethy then positioned the forklift near the middle of the flat bed on the driver's side and raised the forks to the base of the top two tiers of pipe.

Hathaway was located approximately ten feet to the side of the driver's door of the truck. Paddock had loosened the four tiedown straps which secured the entire load prior to the arrival of the forklift and had removed the center two tiedown straps. Paddock walked around the front of the truck and down the passenger side of the vehicle to the rear of the trailer. Hathaway lost sight of Paddock when he rounded the front of the truck and seconds later he saw the tiedown strap at the back of the trailer being pulled off the load from the passenger side.

Dorethy maneuvered the forklift tines under the bottom of the top two tiers of pipe. At the same time, Paddock apparently started walking to the front of the truck along the passenger side while rolling up the tiedown strap. Dorethy inserted the tines approximately three quarters of the way under the top two tiers when he heard a popping sound. He shouted to Hathaway to check if something had fallen off the truck. From where Hathaway was positioned, he saw the top two bundles on the passenger side fall off the trailer. He walked around the front of the truck and observed Paddock pinned under a bundle of pipe.

Hathaway shouted to Dorethy to call an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Dorethy used the two-way radio in the fork lift to call for help. He then got off the machine and tried to remove, by hand, the bundle lying on the victim. Being unsuccessful, he returned to the forklift and used it to remove the bundle.

Hearing the call for help, Davis arrived at the site at 10:02 a.m. and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When it became apparent that Paddock's chest was crushed, CPR was stopped. At 10:04 a.m., Jan Douglas, an EMT with the security service, arrived and checked Paddock for vital signs and found none. Steven Laird, Belle Ayr Safety Manager, arrived at 10:05 a.m.. Paddock was then placed in the mine ambulance and transported to Campbell County Memorial Hospital, Gillette, Wyoming, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Physical Factors Involved

  1. The pipes were 40 feet long and weighed 8.4 pounds per linear foot. They were stacked in five tiers with each tier consisting of two bundles of pipes laid side by side on a 45-foot long flat bed trailer. The bundles contained nine lengths of pipe, five on the bottom and four on the top. Each bundle rested on six 5 1/2-inch wide by 3 1/2-inch high by 43-inch long wooden beams. The pipes and wooden beams were banded together by six 3/4-inch wide metal bands spaced 7 feet 5 inches apart along the length of the bundle. The ends of the bands were crimped together. Each bundle weighed 3,024 pounds.

  2. Nylon tiedown straps were used to secure the bundles to the bed of the truck. One end of each strap was hooked on the passenger side of the trailer, tossed over the load, and attached on the driver's side with a ratchet tightening device. The bottom three tiers of the load were held in place by three tiedown straps. Four additional tiedown straps secured the entire load to the bed of the truck. When these four straps were loosened, only the top two tiers of pipes were freed.

  3. The temperature on the day of the accident reached 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

  4. Hathaway stated that the top two bundles on the passenger side (bundles 8 & 10 in the sketch) appeared to overhang the side near the rear of the trailer. Hathaway did not mention this to anyone prior to the accident.

  5. Two metal bands on the rear of bundle 8 were not intact. The ends of one of the bands could not be found at the accident scene. The second band was pulled apart at the crimped ends. The popping sound that Dorethy heard as he worked the fork lift tines between the bundles was most likely the failure of the second band.

  6. The spacing between the bundles, as provided by the wooden beams, was 3-1/2 inches. The forklift had two tines, each measuring 7 inches wide and 72 inches long. The tines ranged in thickness from 1/4 inch at the front to 3 inches at the back. When fully inserted in the space between the bundles, only 1/2 inch of clearance existed between the tines and the bundles.

  7. Bundle 10 (the top bundle on the passenger side) landed on the ground 6 feet 8 inches from the side of the truck. Bundle 8, which fell on the victim, landed on the ground, 2 feet 3 inches from the bed of the truck. Bundle 10 was intact with all four metal bands secure.


Failure to ensure that all persons remained in the clear while the bundled pipe was being unloaded with a forklift machine was the principal cause of this accident. Contributing to the accident was the combination of the unbalanced load, the absence of the metal band on bundle 8, and the close clearance between the bundles for the forklift tines. The jostling by the tines apparently caused the second strap on bundle 8 to break which further unbalanced the load causing the two bundles to topple off the trailer. Lack of positive communication between the forklift operator and the truck driver (victim) also contributed to the cause of the accident.


No violations of Title 30 CFR were observed that contributed to the cause of the accident.

Respectfully submitted by:

James M. Beam
Coal Mine Safety & Health Inspector

Douglas E. Liller
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector, Electrical

Approved by:

Archie D. Vigil
Assistant District Manager for Inspections

John A. Kuzar
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon [FAB95C23]