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District 2

Accident Investigation Report
(Surface Coal Mine)


River Hill Coal Co. (I.D. No. 36 00884)
River Hill Coal Co., Inc.
Karthaus, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania

May 5, 1996


William D. Sparvieri, Jr.
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Michael M. Zenone
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Joseph F. Judeikis
Mechanical Engineer
Approval and Certification Center

John W. Fredland, Jr.
Civil Engineer
Pittsburgh Safety and Health Technology Center

George H. Gardner
Civil Engineer
Pittsburgh Safety and Health Technology Center

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
New Stanton District Office
R.R. 1, Box 736, Hunker, Pennsylvania
Joseph J. Garcia, District Manager


The River Hill Coal Co. Mine, operated by River Hill Coal Co., Inc., is located 1.7 miles off State Route 879 at Karthaus, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. The mine consists of seven active strip pits and a preparation plant. Employment is provided for 109 persons. Coal is mined from the Upper and Middle Kittanning and Moshannon coal seams, which have a combined thickness of up to 75 inches. The mine operates two 12-hour shifts a day, six days a week. Average production is 3,000 raw tons of coal a day.

Overburden is drilled with highwall drills, shot, and removed with a dragline, excavators, bulldozers, and rock trucks. Coal is loaded into trucks with front-end loaders and transported to the preparation plant for processing.

The principal officers at the mine are:
Harry C. Hancher..............President/Superintendent
John Fox...........................Safety Director

The last Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) regular Safety and Health inspection was completed on March 29, 1996.


On Saturday, May 4, 1996, the 004-0 pit crew, under the supervision of William L. Moore, foreman/excavator operator, started their shift at 6:00 p.m. The crew's assignment was to load overburden which had been previously drilled and blasted. Upon arrival at the 004-0 pit, the crew conducted a pre- operational inspection of the equipment.

At approximately 6:10 p.m., Moore began loading overburden. A Caterpillar 5230 excavator was used to load the three Caterpillar 785B rock trucks used on this job site. Jack E. Gaines, bulldozer operator, using his 2-way radio, suggested that one of the trucks haul to the middle dump area and the other two trucks haul to the lower dump area. Burton J. Fry, rock truck driver, said that he would haul to the middle dump area. The work of moving the overburden progressed with Fry hauling each of his loads to the middle dump area while Timothy W. Gaines and Leonard L. Martin, the other two rock-truck drivers, hauled most of their loads to the lower dump. Timothy Gaines and Martin also hauled an occasional load to the middle dump area while the lower dump was being "pushed off" by the bulldozer.

At 12:01 a.m., May 5, 1996, Fry pulled along side the excavator, had his truck loaded with rock and traveled to the middle dump.

At approximately 12:10 a.m., Timothy Gaines had just completed dumping at the lower dump area and was parked facing the middle dump. Timothy Gaines said that he could see the back-up lights of Fry's truck as Fry backed towards the edge of the middle dump. Moments later he saw the headlights facing downhill and the truck sliding on the bed and cab down the side of the dump. Timothy Gaines, using his two-way radio, notified the other miners of the occurrence and started driving to the accident site. Moore and Jack Gaines exited their equipment and ran to Fry's truck.

The truck had come to a stop near an old haul road at the base of the dump. The truck was back on its tires with the headlights facing up the slope. Upon arrival at the rock truck, Moore climbed up to the operator's cab to check Fry's condition. When Jack Gaines arrived, he was informed by Moore that Fry was not in the truck. Jack Gaines began looking for Fry along the old haul road. As Moore turned the truck engine off using the master switch located near the front bumper, Jack Gaines found Fry approximately 25 feet from the truck. Observing that he was seriously injured, Jack Gaines told Timothy Gaines to call for an ambulance while Moore, treating Fry for shock, placed a vest over him. Timothy Gaines drove his rock truck to the parking area. Using his personal pick-up truck, he drove approximately one mile to a private residence to call Clearfield County 911 and report the accident. Gaines then telephoned Joseph Potter, foreman, to notify him of the accident. Potter, who was at home, traveled to the mine immediately.

At 1:00 a.m., an ambulance with emergency medical technicians from the Karthaus Ambulance Service arrived at Fry's location. The victim was treated and taken to Philipsburg Hospital from which he was transported by medical helicopter to Conemaugh Hospital, Johnstown, PA. He died there of his injuries at 1:54 p.m., May 5, 1996. The cause of death was multiple skull fractures and blunt force trauma.


The investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence of the accident:
  1. The weather on Saturday night May 4, 1996, and Sunday morning May 5, 1996, was clear and dry, with the temperature in the mid 40's.

  2. The overburden material being hauled from the 004-0 pit to the middle rock dump consisted predominantly of relatively clean shot rock.

  3. The top of the middle dump was relatively level and the surface material was dry. An open area approximately 20 feet wide existed along the south edge of the dump where no berm had been established. Overburden approximately 4 to 6 feet high had been deposited everywhere else on the remaining edge of the dump to prevent overtravel. To the left of the opening, large tire indentations were observed in the berm material, almost the full height of the berm, indicating that a haul truck had backed into it.

    Rock-truck size tire tracks were observed to the edge of the dump in the open area. The tire tracks did not indicate any evidence of skidding before the overtravel occurred. However, evidence was present to indicate that the truck had been backed to the edge of the dump on a slight angle, allowing the right rear tires to reach the edge before the left rear tires. Along the edge where the truck went over the dump, there was no indication that the truck had been driven up on a berm and then had traveled over the edge. Furthermore, there were no markings on the back or bottom of the truck rear axle consistent with the truck having driven through a berm. The ground clearance under the truck rear axle is 32 inches.

    After the accident, the condition of the edge of the pile was consistent with the truck either rolling over the edge, or backing to a point very close to the edge and going over the edge when the edge gave way under the weight of the truck. In the latter case, additional forces may have been applied to the edge of the pile from the braking force of the truck, and/or from the bed being raised.

  4. The distance from the top of the middle dump to the old haul road was 150 feet. The slope angle of the rock dump varied between 35 and 39 degrees.

  5. The truck involved was a 1993 Caterpillar Model 785B rock truck, Serial No. 6HK00207. The hour meter indicated the truck had been in service for 11,611 hours. The load capacity of the 785B is rated at 102 cubic yards. The maximum operating weight is approximately 550,000 lbs. (275 tons). The total empty weight is approximately 209,000 lbs. (105 tons).

  6. The transmission selector lever (gear shift) was found in the neutral position and the park brake switch was off. There was no evidence to indicate the position of the truck bed at the time the truck traveled over the edge of the dump.

  7. The Caterpillar 785B rock truck was equipped with four braking systems: Service, parking, retarder and secondary. When any of the four braking systems was activated, both front and rear brakes are engaged. The service, secondary and retarder braking systems are oil cooled air over hydraulic wet disc. The parking brake system is spring applied, hydraulic release, utilizing the same disc packs as the other three braking systems.

    The thicknesses of both front brake disc packs were checked and found to be in "as new" condition, indicated by no measurable wear on the disc packs. The master cylinders for both the front and rear brakes had not experienced any overstroke. This indicates that the slack adjusters were at the proper adjustment and the hydraulic side of the service, secondary and retarder brake systems was at the proper adjustment and functioning properly.

    All four braking systems were tested from point of activation down to the wheels. Drawbar pull tests were conducted using a 0 to 100,000 lb. tension link. All four individual braking systems met or exceeded the manufacturer's specifications. An external compressed air source was connected to the truck and pressures were measured on both the hydraulic and air sides of the brakes. Upon actuation of the individual brake systems, all air and hydraulic pressures were maintained within the manufacturer's specifications. The parking brake release system was also checked and found to be operating properly.

  8. The Caterpillar 785B rock truck was equipped with a transmission neutralizer switch. The transmission neutralizer switch is an electrical interlock which automatically shifts the transmission from reverse to neutral when an attempt is made to raise the bed while the transmission is in reverse. The transmission neutralizer switch was checked and found to be correctly operating as designed. The bed raise/lower lever linkage was also checked. Although the lever was out of adjustment 2.9 inches, the lever, lever linkage and transmission neutralizer switch were all operating properly.

    The rock truck was equipped with a six speed wet clutch automatic transmission. In order to test the transmission, an auxiliary hydraulic power supply, which provided approximately 20 gallons per minute at 400 psi, was plumbed directly into the transmission where the hydraulic supply and return lines were normally connected. This allowed the rotary selector spool and the clutches to be checked without the truck's engine running.

    The transmission was evaluated in four positions: Neutral 1, neutral 2, reverse and first gear. The evaluation consisted of determining the proper operation of the following:

    1. Transmission selector lever
    2. Transmission neutralizer switch
    3. Transmission rotary selector spool
    4. Transmission gear indicator
    5. Clutch pressure for clutches Nos. 1 and 6 at the corresponding pressure tap points labeled B and G.

    The evaluation was made to determine if the transmission would shift out of reverse gear when either the body raise switch activated or the transmission selector lever was moved from reverse to neutral. Test results indicated that all associated switches, components, valves, solenoids and clutches were working properly.

  9. Both steering accumulators were checked for their nitrogen charge. The manufacturer specifies approximately 1,200 psi as the correct nitrogen charge. The results of the tests were:

    1. Right side accumulator 780 psi
    2. Left side accumulator 700 psi

    The accumulators were checked with 0 psi pressure on the hydraulic side in order to obtain a true measure of the accumulator nitrogen charge pressures. Although the steering accumulators were not charged up to the manufacturer's specifications, they did contain a magnitude of reserve. This reserve would provide hydraulic dampening of the steering system under normal operation and also provide auxiliary assist to steering in the event of engine failure.

  10. The Caterpillar 785B rock truck was equipped with a Payload Measurement System (PMS) and an Electronic Monitoring System (EMS). Computer printouts obtained from the PMS revealed the following information:

    1. The truck was hauling the 23rd load for the shift.
    2. The truck was loaded with the final load at 12:01 a.m., May 5, 1996.
    3. Travel time from the pit to the dump site for the 23rd load was 2.87 minutes, with a load of 155.8 tons.
    4. During the previous 22 loads, the truck hauled between 146.3 tons and 167.1 tons per load.

    The EMS monitors and records certain aspects of engine and transmission operation, and records events occurring outside the manufacturer's established operating parameters. A review of the data provided by the EMS did not identify any fault codes that may have played a role in the cause of the accident.

  11. A seat belt provided in the operator's compartment was found intact and not buckled. Rollover protection was provided and the operator's cab sustained very minor damage.

  12. William Moore received first-aid training and treated the victim for shock until the ambulance arrived.

  13. A review of the Karthaus Ambulance Service's log book indicated that 28 minutes had elapsed between the time of the accident and the time the ambulance service was notified. This was due to the fact that emergency communications were not provided at the mine site. River Hill Coal Co. Inc., provides five cellular telephones in company vehicles, however the persons assigned these vehicles were not scheduled to work the 6:00 p.m. shift on May 4, 1996. Therefore, the vehicles with the phones were not on mine property at the time of the accident.


The accident occurred because overburden was being dumped at the edge of the middle dump where an adequate berm was not in place. The lack of a berm allowed the truck to either overtravel the edge of the dump, or get close enough to the edge that the edge gave way under the rear tires. The not wearing of the seat belt contributed to the severity of the injuries.


  1. A 103(k) order was issued to ensure the safety of miners until an investigation into the cause would be completed.

  2. An adequate berm or similar means to prevent overtravel was not provided at the middle rock dump, a violation of 30 CFR, 77.1605(l).

  3. The operator of the Caterpillar 785B rock truck was not wearing the seat belt provided. The truck was equipped with rollover protection, a violation of 30 CFR, 77.1710(I).

  4. Emergency communications were not provided for the 004-0 pit, a violation of 30 CFR, 77.1701(a).

Respectfully Submitted by

William D. Sparvieri, Jr.

Michael M. Zenone

Joseph F. Judeikis

John W. Fredland, Jr.

Approved by:

Joseph J. Garcia
District Manager--Coal Mine
Safety and Health District 2

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB96C16