DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
Office of the Administrator
Coal Mine Safety and Health
Accident Investigation Report
MULTIPLE FATAL ROOF FALL ACCIDENT
Big Creek Seaboard No. 2 Mine (I.D. No. 44-03479)
Sea "B" Mining Company
Jewell Ridge, Tazewell County, Virginia
July 15, 1997
Robert L. Crumrine
Assistant District Manager
Joseph R. Yudasz
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Nelson T. Blake
Chief, Roof Control Section
Joseph A. Cybulski
Supervisory Mining Engineer, Technical Support
Office of the Administrator, Coal Mine Safety and Health
4015 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22203
Marvin W. Nichols, Jr., Administrator
Report Release Date: February 11, 1998
On Tuesday, July 15, 1997, at about 8:45 a.m., a multiple fatal roof fall accident occurred in the 4 Mains section (MMU 002-0) of Sea "B" Mining Company's Big Creek Seaboard No. 2 Mine. The accident resulted in the death of James Colley, Section Foreman, and Coy Witt, Continuous Mining Machine Helper.
The accident occurred during second mining as a right-side cut of coal was being mined in the pillar block between Nos. 2 and 3 entries, utilizing a remote control continuous mining machine. Near the completion of this cut, the mine roof in the crosscut immediately outby and to the right of the No. 2 entry, began working. Aware that a roof fall was imminent, Colley ordered everyone in the immediate area to retreat and to tram the shuttle car and continuous mining machine outby the intersection. While Colley and Witt were retreating, the mine roof in the intersect collapsed crushing them under the fallen roof material. The roof fall measured approximately 20 feet in width, 140 feet in length, and six to nine feet in thickness. The roof fall extended from approximately the left ribline in No. 2 entry to the left ribline in No. 4 entry. This area of the mine was developed in August 1985.
The presence of a large roof anomaly (slip) was a contributing factor to the massive roof fall. Although the slip had been detected by crew members, it was not determined that it extended through the connecting crosscuts of the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 entries thus presenting a much greater danger than other slips existing throughout the mine. Even though the section foreman had taken steps to install additional supplemental roof support, the large amount of roof affected by the slip and the hazard it presented, was underestimated. The roof fell suddenly and, to a large degree, in a solid mass overriding the supplemental support.
The Big Creek Seaboard No. 2 Mine is operated by Sea "B" Mining Company, and is located 6 miles north of Richlands, Virginia on state route 67 at Jewell Ridge, Tazewell County, Virginia. The Sea "B" Mining Company is a subsidiary of Thames Development, Inc.
The principal officers of Sea "B" Mining Company, at the time of the accident were:
Michael D. Wright....................................President/Superintendent
R. Thomas Asbury...................................Manager of Safety
Blaine Hileman.........................................Mine Foreman
The Sea "B" Mining Company's Big Creek Seaboard No. 2 Mine was opened December 1973, with nine drift openings into the Lower Seaboard Coal Seam. Mining height averages 50 to 72 inches. The mine floor elevations ranged from 2170 to 2590 feet. The underground mine extends over an area of approximately 733 acres.
Employment is provided for 61 persons working underground and seven working on the surface. The mine operates one continuous mining section (MMU-002), producing coal two shifts a day, seven days a week. The production shifts overlap, working ten hours each on afternoon and midnight. The day shift works eight hours performing maintenance and dead work. The mine produces an average of 980 tons of clean coal daily.
A room and pillar system of mining is employed using a Joy 1410 remote control continuous mining machine, Joy 21 shuttle cars, and a Fletcher DDO-15 roof bolting machine. Coal is transported to the surface by a belt conveyor system. A trolley powered track haulage system is used to transport employees and supplies in and out of the mine. The operator is retreating the 4-Mains area of the mine utilizing a 3-cut pillar plan. The entries and rooms are numbered from left to right for identification purposes.
Federal Mine Inspections
A MSHA safety and health inspection (AAA) was completed on June 16, 1997. Another MSHA safety and health inspection was ongoing at the time of the accident but no MSHA inspection personnel were present at the mine.
The roof-control plan in effect was approved by the MSHA District Manager on September 7, 1993. A supplement to the plan which permitted mining 35-foot deep cuts during pillar recovery of blocks developed on 70' by 70' or larger centers was approved on June 23, 1997, and implemented at the mine on July 14, 1997. The roof-control plan requires 48-inch minimum length resin-grouted bolts to be installed on a 4-foot maximum lengthwise and crosswise spacing. Maximum entry and crosscut widths are limited to twenty feet, with the exception of the combination belt-track entry that is permitted to be mined a maximum width of 22 feet. The maximum cut depth is 30 feet during development and 35 feet during pillar recovery. Entry and crosscut centers are specified as ranging from 45 to 100 feet.
The coal pillars are recovered utilizing a three-cut sequence with two lifts driven opposite, left and right from the entries with the third cut driven in the bottom-end of the block from the crosscut. When mining 35-foot cuts a 10-foot minimum fender is required at the outby corners of the pillar block and a 6-foot fender when pillar lifts are driven 30 feet or less. All posts are required to be set on 4-foot centers. The roof-control plan stipulates that when adverse roof conditions are encountered, continuous mining machine cut depth shall be limited to 20 feet or less to provide for effective roof control.
The Lower Seaboard coal seam ranges in height from 4 to 6 feet. The immediate roof typically consists of a firm shale or sandy shale with a main roof comprised of sandy shale. The maximum overburden is 1100 feet.
Violations of the roof control plan observed during the investigation were determined to have not contributed to the accident and the associated citations were issued under a separate inspection event.
The mine map available at the mine on the day of the accident was up-to-date with temporary notations. Observation of the map relative to the mining that had been completed indicated that all advance and retreat mining had been marked on the map.
The training and retraining plan to meet the requirements of 30 CFR Part 48 was approved by the MSHA District Manager on June 20, 1988. The program for training and retraining of certified and qualified persons and for training and retraining selected supervisors was approved on June 19, 1997. A review of the training records and interviews with miners indicated that all required training had been conducted.
Emergency Medical Assistance
Arrangements had been made with Quality Ambulance Service for emergency medical assistance. Following the accident, Quality Ambulance Service responded to the call. The servicing unit is located approximately 5 miles from the mine.
THE ACCIDENT, RECOVERY, AND INVESTIGATION
Description of Accident
On Tuesday, July 15, 1997, the third shift (midnight) production crew, consisting of 10 underground miners entered the mine at 12:01 a.m., under the supervision of James Colley, Section Foreman. Upon arriving on the section at approximately 12:20 a.m., Colley met Rodney Glover, Section Foreman second shift, at the section coal belt conveyor feeder and discussed the pillar mining conditions on the section. The crew proceeded to their job sites and began their assigned tasks. Coy Witt, Continuous Mining Machine Helper and Lee Miller, Continuous Mining Machine Operator, traveled to the No. 4 entry where the remote control continuous mining machine was parked at the left pillar cut. The cut of coal had not been completed by the previous shift. Miller finished mining this cut and then proceeded to mine a cut in the adjacent right pillar off the No. 4 entry. Andy Brown, Roof Bolting Machine Operator/Timberman, and Kenneth Mitchell, Roof Bolting Machine Operator/Timberman, were instructed by Colley to install the required breaker and turn posts as mining advanced across the pillar line on the section from the No. 4 entry to the No. 2 entry.
During this time frame, Colley made an examination of the pillar line and detected a crack in the mine roof in the outby right side edge of the intersection in the No. 3 entry and a crack in the inby edge in the intersection in the No. 2 entry. Colley notified Witt and Miller of the cracks and told them to be careful. As mining progressed, the bottom-end cut, between Nos. 4 and 5 entries, was completed and the mining machine was moved to the No. 3 entry. Mining progressed in the No. 3 entry without incident.
The left, right, and bottom-end (between No. 3 and 4 entries) cuts were mined and upon completion, the mining machine was trammed to the No. 2 entry. Brown and Mitchell had installed and precut posts for installation as mining had advanced to the No. 2 entry. Two additional posts were installed near the inby edge of the intersection in the No. 2 entry where the crack was detected. Witt began mining the right cut in the pillar block between Nos. 2 and 3 entries. During mining, the breaker posts that had been installed in the crosscut along the left rib-line at the No. 3 entry intersection, began taking weight and were beginning to crack. At this time Colley, returning from the belt conveyor feeder, traveled to the area where the breaker posts were taking weight. After monitoring the area, Colley returned to the No. 2 entry and instructed Bill Richardson, Scoop Operator, to obtain additional posts, from the section supply station. As mining continued, Colley, Miller, and Brown were located in the crosscut to the right of the No. 2 entry near the two additional posts and were monitoring the mine roof. Witt, operating the continuous mining machine by remote control, was standing on the right side of the No. 2 entry inby the intersection, and was waiting for another shuttle car to arrive. As Jennings Williams, Shuttle Car Operator, returned for a load of coal, and was positioning his shuttle car under the boom of the continuous mining machine, Colley realized that the mine roof in the crosscut was beginning to fall. He shouted for everybody to get out of the area and for Witt to tram the continuous mining machine out of the cut. Mitchell, who was standing between the breaker posts in the left crosscut of the No. 2 entry, immediately traveled outby the intersection to safety with Miller, Williams and Brown. The mine roof in the intersection and the crosscut to the right collapsed crushing Witt and Colley under the fallen roof material.
Recovery efforts were begun immediately by the midnight crew members and the day shift crew members, who had just arrived on the section. Mine officials on the surface were notified of the accident and were requested to provide additional aid. Colley was recovered at 9:45 a.m. and Witt recovered at 10:40 a.m. The Mine Safety and Health Administration and Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy were notified of the accident and assisted in the recovery effort.
Activities of MSHA Personnel
Wayne Hart, Supervisory Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector, MSHA Richlands Field Office, was notified by telephone of the accident at 9:00 a.m. on July 15, 1997 by Mike Wright, Superintendent. MSHA inspectors were immediately dispatched to the mine and assisted in recovery operations. A 103(k) order was issued upon arrival of MSHA personnel to ensure the safety of any person in the coal mine until an examination and/or investigation was made to determine that the mine was safe. MSHA personnel assisted in the recovery of Coy Witt and provided hydraulic jacks specially maintained at the Richlands Field Office to facilitate rescue and recovery of miners trapped during roof falls.
The accident investigation began on Tuesday, July 15, 1997. Robert L. Crumrine, Assistant District Manager, District 3, was appointed as the Chief Investigator. MSHA personnel participating in the investigation were Nelson T. Blake, Chief, Roof Control Section, District 3, Joseph R. Yudasz, Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector, District 3, Joseph A. Cybulski, Supervisory Mining Engineer, Technical Support, and Lee Smith, Mine Safety and Health Specialist CMS&H.
The investigation team met at the MSHA office in Richlands, Virginia on July 15, 1997, and was briefed by District 5 personnel on the accident and the recovery of the victims. A joint meeting was held on July 16, 1997, with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy discussing the procedures for the investigation. The team then proceeded to the mine where a meeting was conducted with the mine operator's management personnel and the representative of the miners' concerning the accident investigation. At the conclusion of the meeting, all personnel involved in the investigation prepared to go underground to the accident site.
After arriving on the 4 Mains section, an examination of the section and the area surrounding the roof fall was conducted. Photographs and sketches were taken of areas relevant to the accident site. The roof fall occurred in the crosscuts from the No. 2 entry to the No. 4 entry, located approximately 130 feet inby survey station 5862. The fall measured 140 feet long, 20 feet wide, and six to nine feet high.
The underground investigation was conducted in all accessible locations of the roof fall area and the 4 Mains (MMU 002-0) Section. The accident site and section were mapped and the location of the victims, equipment used, and roof support materials were plotted.
The investigation team conducted 18 voluntary interviews with employees of the mine on July 17, 1997. The interviews were conducted at the Richlands, Virginia MSHA office. All of the interviews were recorded and transcribed by a court reporting service with the exception of three mine management employees who requested that their interviews not be recorded. Copies of the transcripts were made available to each interested party. On July 23, 1997, follow-up interviews with six mine employees were conducted at the mine site.
FINDINGS OF FACT
Physical Factors Involved
The investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence of the accident:
- The roof fall accident occurred July 15, 1997 at
approximately 8:45 a.m. on the 4-Mains (002) Section in the
crosscut from No. 2 to No. 4 located approximately 130 feet
inby survey station 5862. The fall measured approximately
140 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 6 to 9 feet high. The
fallen material was composed of gray laminated shale which
predominately remained intact. The inby side of the fall,
adjacent to the inby rib-line of the crosscut 2 to 3,
revealed the presence of a slip oriented at about a 45-degree
angle into the roof. The outby side of the fall,
adjacent to the outby rib-line of the crosscut 2 to 3,
appeared rough and jagged as though it had broken from the
weight of the roof rock cantilevering from the inby slip.
- The area of the mine where the roof fall occurred was
developed in August of 1985. The roof was supported with
48-inch resin grouted roof bolts installed on 4-foot
centers. The mining height at the accident site was 6 to
6-1/2 feet. The overburden at the accident site was
approximately 415 feet. The active working section had
previously encountered many slips in the mine roof and
according to the unified testimony of the miners interviewed
these slips were successfully controlled by the addition of
supplemental support or by avoidance based on their
experience and judgement with the prevailing mine
- Pillar blocks were being mined from right to left across the
section using a three-cut pillar sequence. The first cut of
the sequence was mined to the left of the entry with the
second cut mined opposite from and to the right of the
first. The third cut would be mined from the crosscut at
the bottom-end of the pillar block and intersect the number
two cut. The sequence was repeated until the entire row of
blocks had been second mined. The row of blocks at the
accident site, was the first area of the mine where the 35-foot
cut depth was used during retreat mining. However, it
was the consensus of the investigating team that the depth
of cut had no bearing on the accident. At the area of the
accident, three pillar blocks between the number one and the
number two entries were left intact to protect a seal.
- The third shift production crew began pillar recovery mining
operations in the No. 4 entry (No. 3 coal pillar). Three
cuts were completed from the No. 4 entry (No.3 coal pillar-left
cut; No. 4 coal pillar-right cut and bottom-end cut).
- According to the interviews, James Colley, Section Foreman,
had examined the pillar line and detected cracks in the mine
roof in the crosscut between the Nos.2 and 3 entries while
mining was in progress in the No.4 entry. The crack
identified in the No.3 entry was located approximately 130
feet inby survey station no. 5861. The crack identified in
the No.2 entry was approximately 150 feet inby survey
station no. 5862.
- After mining was completed in the No. 4 entry, three pillar
cuts were mined in the No. 3 entry (No. 2 coal pillar-left
cut; No. 3 coal pillar-right cut and bottom-end cut). Lee
Miller, Continuous Mining Machine Operator, stated that he
mined the left cut in the No. 2 pillar block to a depth of
about 35 feet. According to Miller and Kenneth Mitchell,
Roof Bolting Machine Operator, the crack observed in the No.
3 entry was located parallel to the crosscut on the outby
side of the intersection. Mitchell stated he observed a
wedge in this crack near the right rib-line of the No. 3
entry and that Colley had checked the wedge for roof
movement during mining in this area. Mitchell also stated
that Witt, Continuous Mining Machine Helper, was afraid of
this area while mining was in progress and left to take his
lunch break. Miller mined the bottom-end cut (No. 3 coal
pillar) and positioned himself outby the crack. Miller and
Mitchell stated that additional timbers had been set prior
to mining in this area.
- Upon completion of mining in the No. 3 entry, the continuous
mining machine was moved to the No. 2 entry. Information
from mine personnel revealed that the following posts were
installed prior to mining the right cut in the No. 2 coal
- Two rows of breaker posts and one row of turn posts
were installed across the No. 2 entry inby the location
of the pillar-cut (No. 2 coal pillar-right cut).
- Twelve posts were set in the intersection, across the
mouth of the crosscut 2 to 1.
- Two rows of breaker posts were set across the crosscut
2 to 3, adjacent the left rib-line of the No. 3 entry.
- A row of turn posts had been set in the crosscut 2 to 3
in preparation for mining the bottom-end cut in the No.
- Two posts were set at the inby rib-line of the crosscut 2 to 3, just outby the pillar-cut (No. 2 coal pillar-right cut) which was the approximate location from where the continuous mining machine was being operated (Witt's location prior to accident).
Miller stated that one of these posts was real big and that he told Witt that if it breaks this--you better get out.
- Two rows of breaker posts and one row of turn posts were installed across the No. 2 entry inby the location of the pillar-cut (No. 2 coal pillar-right cut).
- The crack in the mine roof observed in the No. 2 entry was
located on the inby side of the intersection adjacent to the
left rib-line of the crosscut 2 to 3 (immediately outby the
No.2 coal pillar-right cut). Miller was performing the
duties of miner helper at this time with Witt operating the
continuous mining machine. Miller stated that he placed a
wedge in the crack and that the crack appeared to be an old
break and not fresh.
- Information from mine personnel indicated that mining had
been in progress in the No.2 coal pillar-right cut for
approximately 25 minutes prior to the roof fall.
- Just prior to the accident there were six persons in the
area where the roof fall occurred located as follows:
- Witt was located in the No. 2 entry near the outby left
corner of the No. 2 coal pillar between the continuous
miner boom and the coal rib,
- Williams, Shuttle Car Operator, had positioned his
empty shuttle car under the continuous mining machine's
conveyor boom in position to load coal,
- Colley, Miller, and Brown were standing near the
location of the two posts installed on the inby side of
the intersection and just outby the pillar cut being
- Mitchell was located between the twelve posts installed across the crosscut 2 to 1.
- Witt was located in the No. 2 entry near the outby left corner of the No. 2 coal pillar between the continuous miner boom and the coal rib,
- At the time of the investigation, the continuous mining
machine was visible inby the roof fall. The fallen material
was located approximately 14 feet outby the machine. The
depth of cut was estimated to be approximately 20 feet (the
right pillar-cut had holed-through into the left cut).
- At the accident site, the crosscut No. 2 to 1 and the No. 1 entry had been filled with gob to within a couple feet of the roof.
There were no violations of 30 CFR observed during the investigation which contributed to the cause of the accident.
A 103(k) Order No. 3531716 was issued on July 15, 1997, to ensure the safety of the miners until an investigation into the cause of the accident could be concluded. A revision of the roof control plan was submitted to the District Manager and approved on July 25, 1997, prior to the termination of the 103(k) order. The revision required that nine 6-foot resin bolts would be installed in all intersections prior to second mining and that a crib would be set in conjunction with the breaker posts in the crosscuts.
The mine roof adjacent to a large geological anomaly (slip) fell causing fatal injuries to the continuous mining machine helper and section foreman. Although the slip had been detected by crew members, it was not determined that it extended through the connecting crosscuts of the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 entries thus presenting a much greater danger than other slips existing throughout the mine. Even though the section foreman had taken steps to install additional supplemental roof supports, the sheer size of the slip and the degree of hazard it presented was underestimated. The roof fell suddenly and, to a large degree, in a solid mass overriding the supplemental support. Continual observations of the roof and breaker posts by the section foreman did enable him to sound a warning which allowed four of the six miners in the area to escape almost certain injury.
Robert L. Crumrine
Assistant District Manager
for Inspection Programs, District 3
Joseph R. Yudasz
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Nelson T. Blake
Chief, Roof Control Section
Joseph A. Cybulski
Supervisory Mining Engineer
Robert A. Elam for
Marvin W. Nichols, Jr.
for Coal Mine Safety and Health
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