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District 4

Underground Coal Mine


Low Gap Powellton No. 2 Mine (ID No. 46-08442)
Marfork Coal Company, Inc.
Packsville, Raleigh County, West Virginia

September 18, 1995


Jerry E. Sumpter

Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
100 Bluestone Road, Mount Hope, West Virginia 25880
Earnest C. Teaster, Jr., District Manager



On Monday, September 18, 1995, about 6:00 p.m., Larry Church, continuous-mining-machine operator, was fatally injured when he was struck by a piece of rock which fell from the mine roof. The rock measured 101 inches in length, 80 inches wide, 8 inches in thickness, and weighed approximately 2,200 pounds.

The accident occurred near the entrance of the No. 3 to No. 4 entry crosscut on the southwest mains 001-0 MMU working section about 5 1/2 feet inby the last row of roof bolts. As a loaded shuttle car was leaving the No. 3 to 4 crosscut, Church traveled inby between the shuttle car and the continuous-mining machine. A massive piece of rock fell crushing the victim. It was known that miner operators would reposition themselves to get a view of how the miner was aligned in the crosscuts.

Church was 29 years old and had 3 years experience as a continuous-mining-machine operator and a total of 10 years mining experience.


The Low Gap Powellton No. 2 mine is located at Packsville, Raleigh County, West Virginia, and is operated by Marfork Coal Company, Inc., a subsidiary of A. T. Massey Coal Company. The principal officers of Low Gap Powellton No. 2 mine are Jeffrey Wilson, president; Clyde Stepp, principal health and safety officer; Pete Hendrix, mine manager; and Jimmy Rinehart, mine foreman.

The mine was developed from the surface into the Powellton coal seam in December 1994. The coal seam averages 64 inches in height. The mine is ventilated by a blowing fan, and the mine liberates about 8,000 cubic feet of methane in a 24-hour period.

The mine produces an average of 2,193 tons of coal daily. The mine is only developing at this time. The roof is supported with 48-inch resin-grouted bolts.

The mining at the time of the accident consisted of developing seven entries on 65-foot centers with crosscuts at 55-foot intervals. The No. 3 and 4 entries were developed 20 feet in width in accordance with the roof control plan.

The mine employs 62 people on two production shifts and one maintenance shift 5 and 6 days a week. Coal is transported from the sections to the surface via belt conveyors. The miners enter the Powellton coalbed through a drift opening and are transported by rail to their assigned work areas.

The immediate roof is comprised of sandstone and shale. The layer of shale and sandstone in the roof ranges from 18 to 24 inches thick. The mine has four drift openings with one opening closed off with a permanent stopping.

The last Mine Safety and Health Administration complete Safety and Health Inspection was completed on June 29, 1995.


On Monday, September 18, 1995, at 4:30 p.m., the evening-shift crew, under the supervision of William Ward, section foreman, entered the mine and traveled to the 001-0 southwest mains section. Ward assigned duties to the crew and mining was started in the No. 5 entry. After the No. 5 entry face was completed, Ward went to the No. 3 entry and marked up his centerlines. The No. 3 crosscut right was to be cut through to the No. 4 entry. After painting the center lines and marking the solid ribs, Ward advised Larry Church to tram his continuous-mining machine to the face of the No. 3 crosscut right and start cutting for a belt access entry.

Church started cutting the face of the No. 3 crosscut right. Church first cut the left inby side of the coal block, then cut one more mining run out of the left inby side of the solid coal. About 5:40 p.m., Church maneuvered the remote control continuous-mining machine to the right outby coal block and cut the face through to the No. 4 entry.

Lawrence Simms, shuttle-car operator, stated he had finished loading his shuttle car with coal and started to turn around in his shuttle car to face the direction of travel toward the section feeder when he observed Church walking between the boom end of the continuous-mining machine and his shuttle car. Simms stated that he observed a massive piece of rock fall from the roof. Simms stated that he did not observe Church at this point in time.

Simms disembarked from his shuttle car and observed Church lying underneath the rock that had fallen. Simms stated that he observed Church's arm and leg extending from underneath the massive slab of rock. Simms immediately informed Clifton Banks, shuttle-car operator, who was in the roadway between No. 3 and No. 4 entries. Banks disembarked from his shuttle car and went to the accident scene. By the time Banks got to the accident site, the two roof-bolting-machine operators, Earnel Morgan and Charles Roberts, had arrived at the scene.

Meanwhile, Simms traveled to the section feeder and told Ward of the accident. Simms then telephoned outside to the mine office and informed Jimmy Rinehart, mine foreman, that there had been a serious accident of roof falling on Church. Simms went back to the accident scene to assist in the recovery process.

Ward told Simms to move his shuttle car from behind the continuous-mining machine to allow room to recover the victim. Ward stated that after the victim was removed, he immediately performed first aid. Ward stated the victim never regained consciousness. The section crew placed the victim on a stretcher and transported him to a track-mounted man trip that was waiting at the section track area.

The victim was taken to the surface where two ambulances were waiting. Whitesville Ambulance Service technicians performed first aid while they could still feel a weak pulse. Paramedics decided that, due to the rough terrain and the time it would take to get to the hospital, it would be better to airlift the victim to the Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC).

The emergency room doctor stated that the victim never regained consciousness and he expired at 8:53 p.m. on September 18, 1995.


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was notified at 6:45 p.m. on September 18, 1995, that a roof fall accident had occurred. MSHA personnel began to arrive at the mine at 10 p.m. A 103(k) Order was issued to ensure the safety of the miners until the accident investigation could be completed.

MSHA and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training jointly conducted an investigation, with the assistance of mine management personnel and the miners.

All parties were briefed by mine management personnel as to the circumstances surrounding the accident. A discussion was held with all miners working in the southwest mains 001-0 MMU section when the accident occurred.

Representatives from all parties traveled to the accident scene where an examination was conducted. Photographs and relevant measurements were taken and video recordings and sketches were made at the accident site on September 18, 1995.

Interviews of individuals known to have direct knowledge of the facts surrounding the accident were conducted at the mine operator's training room on September 20, 1995.

The physical portion of the investigation was completed on September 21, 1995, and the 103(k) Order was terminated.


Training records indicated that training had been conducted in accordance with 30 CFR, Part 48. An examination of Church's training records revealed that he had received all required training.


Records and the examiner's date, time, and initials indicated that the required preshift and on-shift examinations were being conducted in the southwest mains 001-0 MMU section.

Physical Factors

The No. 3 crosscut right to the No. 4 entry was being mined to set up access for a belt drive.

The trailing cable to the Joy 14-5 radio remote-control continuous-mining machine enters on the machine's right side, and the scrubber exhausts on the left side. At the time of the accident, no ventilation controls were being used. The continuous-mining machine was normally operated from the right side. A visible warning sign was posted in the No. 3 entry at the second row of bolts.

When mining the first cut of the crosscut, the continuous-mining- machine operator positions himself so that he can see the face of the crosscut and be clear of the Joy 21 shuttle car during mining operations. As the crosscut is advanced, the outby rib becomes harder to see from the normal position of the continuous-mining- machine operator (on the right side), as was determined during the investigation. The continuous-miner operators had not been instructed to reposition themselves to the inby side, when the depth of cut obstructed their vision or the shuttle car restricted clearance.

At the time of the accident, all crosscuts were being mined to the right. Visibility was stated as a problem, sometimes, when rock was cut and when the continuous miner advanced into the crosscut. At times, the miner operators were known to move away from the right rib to get a better view of the continuous miner position.

As a result of the investigation, the work practice of each section on every shift was observed and compared to the roof control plan. As a result, the company modified the plan to limit the initial cut in the crosscut to 20 feet.

The immediate roof at the accident site was comprised of sandstone and shale ranging from 18 to 24 inches in thickness. The coal seam was 50 inches in thickness. The operator was mining up to 24 inches of rock from the mine roof for additional clearance, resulting in a mining height of 80 inches in the No. 3 crosscut right to No. 4 entry to prepare for installation of a belt drive.

The immediate mine roof at the accident site was supported with 4-foot resin-grouted rods with 4-inch by 8-inch bearing plates. They were installed on 4-foot lengthwise and 4- to 5-foot crosswise spacing.

The mine floor was wet; however, the mine roof and ribs were relatively dry at the accident site.

There was no indication of excessive pressure on the pillars in the immediate area; however, there were indications, using a sound- and-vibration method with a solid metal hammer, that the roof was loose, drummy, and had slicken sided formations at the accident scene.

The immediate mine roof was drummy at intermittent locations within the southwest mains working section. Sloughing rock of 1 to 3 inches in thickness was observed at two locations in the No. 3 entry as shown on the sketch. Some high angled slip formations were present in the No. 4 entry two crosscuts outby the accident site. The rock had either fallen or was scaled from the roof.

The piece of rock that fell, fatally injuring Church, was approximately 101 inches in length, 80 inches in width, 3 to 8 inches in thickness, and was calculated to weigh approximately 2,200 pounds. Another large piece of rock fell from the same cavity; however, it could not be determined if it fell in unison with the rock that struck Church.

All persons interviewed stated that they have received instructions by mine officials not to work or travel inby roof supports.

When the mine roof was supported in the No. 3 entry, the roof bolts were installed to within 4 feet of the rib, which resulted in the bolts not being installed in direct alignment along the right rib due to a slight offset of the previous cut.

Church traveled up to 5 feet into the location where the roof bolts were not aligned, traveled between the boom of the continuous- mining machine and the shuttle car, and was fatally injured when the unsupported roof rock fell.

The width of the opening of the No. 3 right face was measured at 25 feet 4 inches. The approved plan required the opening to be limited to no more than 26 feet in width, at the point of turning the crosscut from the entry.

The approved roof-control plan required the operator of a remote control continuous-mining machine to remain outby the full second row of permanent supports during cutting and loading operations.

According to several miners interviewed, while mining a right crosscut, they had to resight the alignment after about 20 feet of the cut was mined. Dust resulting from cutting roof rock sometimes caused a visibility problem during remote-control deep-cut mining operations while turning the crosscuts to the right. At the time of the accident, even though there were no ventilation curtains in place, visibility was not noted as a problem from dust.


It is the consensus of the accident investigation team that the accident and resultant fatality occurred when the victim traveled inby the last row of roof supports in the No. 3 to No. 4 entry crosscut of the southwest mains 001-0 MMU section. A contributing factor may have been a restriction of visibility while mining the right-side crosscut.


  1. A 104(a) Citation No. 3737065 was issued stating in part that the victim traveled inby roof supports in the No. 3 to the No. 4 entry crosscut face of the southwest mains 001-0 MMU section. This was a violation of Section 75.202(b) 30 CFR.

  2. A 104(a) Citation No. 3737066 was issued stating in part that when the operator encountered adverse roof conditions the depth of the cut was not reduced as required by the approved Roof Control Plan. The mine roof was loose and drummy, and slickensided formations were present in the area of the accident scene. This was a violation of Section 75.220(a)(1), 30 CFR.

Respectfully submitted by:

Jerry E. Sumpter
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Approved by:

Ronald Dunbar
Assistant District Manager

Earnest C. Teaster, Jr.
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon [FAB95C32]