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District 7

(Surface Coal Mine)

Fatal Powered Haulage Accident

Big Elk Creek Coal Company, Inc.
Kelly Fork Mine
ID No. 15-17492
Kodak, Perry County, Kentucky

July 31, 1997


Elmer Hall, Jr.
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
HC 66 Box 1762, Barbourville, KY 40906
Joseph W. Pavlovich, District Manager

Report Release Date: January 21, 1998


At approximately 3:10 A.M. on Thursday, July 31, 1997, a fatal powered haulage accident occurred at the Big Elk Creek Coal, Inc., Kelly Fork Surface Mine.

Harold Brooks, age 62, rock truck driver, suffered fatal injuries. While attempting to position the truck to dump, the right or offside rear wheels exceeded the limits of travel at the edge of the dump. The truck then traveled backward over the top of the dump and continued down the dump slope, overturned and came to rest upside down in approximately 6 feet of water.

The accident occurred as a direct result of the mine operator's failure to maintain an adequate dump berm at the No. 8 pit spoil dump location. Contributing to the severity was the failure of the mine operator to insure that seatbelts, where required, were worn.


The Kelly Fork Mine of Big Elk Creek Coal Company, Inc. is located at Kodak, in Perry County, Kentucky. The mine entered operational status in March 1979. The mine produces approximately 3,000 tons of clean coal daily and employs 63 miners on two production shifts, five days per week. Coal is transported by trucks operated by independent contractors from the mine site to the Golden Oak Mining Company L.P., Charlene Tipple located at Kodak. The mineral leased to the company is owned by Montgomery Coal Corporation. The surface lands are owned by Josephine Harris. Big Elk Creek Coal Company, Inc. is a solely owned corporation.

The last MSHA regular safety and health inspection (AAA) at Big Elk Creek Coal Company, Inc., was completed on January 8, 1997.


The second shift started normally at 6:00 p.m. on July 30, 1997, under the supervision of the substitute foreman Bobby Ison. Harold Brooks (victim) normally operated rock truck No. 617, a Caterpillar Model 785. The particular truck was out of service to reline the bed and had not been operated during the last three shifts. Brooks was operating truck No. 606 a Caterpillar Model 777A for this period. Ison stated that he had the subject truck, No. 606, switched from the lower 5A level to the upper No. 8 pit, at the beginning of this shift, as it had extended side boards and could not be loaded with the Caterpillar Model 992C front-end loader in use in the No. 5A pit. Ison stated that he had visited and examined the No. 8 pit and dump area on more than one occasion during this shift.

These visits and examinations occurred prior to the access road being removed which was done in order to allow two bulldozers to push overburden material out of the pit and along the left side of the dump area. Ison stated that the shift appeared to be proceeding normally and that he was monitoring the work areas on his CB radio. All equipment on this operation is equipped with CB radios.

Bert Smith, bulldozer operator, stated that he had worked on the dump twice, at approximately 8:00 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., since the beginning of the shift, Smith, stated that he had left a dump berm for the trucks approximately three feet in height.

Hershel Williams, a rock truck driver, was operating rock truck No. 603, a Caterpillar Model 777B, in the No. 8 pit with the victim. Williams stated that he spoke with Brooks via CB radio during the shift and ate lunch with him. Brooks did not report encountering any problems. At approximately 3:02 a.m. on the morning of July 31, 1997, Williams stated that he hauled a load of overburden from the pit and did not see, or pass Brooks on his way to the dump. After dumping his load he returned to the loader and reported his concern for Brook's location to Roy Halcomb, loader operator. Halcomb then contacted Ison and inquired in regard to Brook's location. Ison stated that he had not directed Brooks to any other location. Ison then stated, "He must be over the fill." Williams then returned to the dump in search of Brooks, but could not see any lights, or see the bottom of the dump area. Ison then stated that he spoke via CB radio to the crew working in the No. 5A pit and directed mechanic, Harlan Collins, to search for the truck at the bottom of the dump slope. Collins stated he searched for 35 or 40 minutes until he was joined by Billy Joe Couch, a relief equipment operator on the day shift, who is also an emergency medical technician at the Vicco-Sassafras Fire Department. Couch finally located the victim lying face down, outside the truck, on the dump slope at approximately 4:15 a.m. Couch stated that Brooks had no vital signs when found.

At 4:30 a.m. Michael Cornett, Superintendent, directed the crew to wait until daylight before moving the victim due to the slope being unstable and low light conditions.

The Vicco-Sassafras Rescue Squad and Letcher County Coroner Winston Meade were contacted and responded. At approximately 7:30 A.M. Meade found no vital signs and pronounced the victim dead. The victim was removed from the slope at approximately 8:00 A.M. and transported to the Letcher Funeral Home.

The victim was subsequently transported to the University of Kentucky College of Medicine for further examination by the Kentucky Medical Examiner's Office.


Dave Jones, Field Office Supervisor of MSHA's Hindman Field Office, was notified of the accident at approximately 4:42 A.M. by Otto Vance, Safety Director for Golden Oak Mining Company, L.P.

MSHA's investigation began immediately after notification of the accident. The investigation was conducted jointly with the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals and the Kentucky State Police. Additionally, George Gardner, Civil Engineer of MSHA's Mine Waste and Geotechnical Engineering Division, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, conducted the technical evaluation of the dump and slope. Eugene Hennen, Mechanical Engineer of MSHA's Technical Support Approval and Certification Center, Triadelphia, West Virginia, conducted the technical evaluation of the 1983 Caterpillar Model 777A rock truck.

Neil Honeycutt, a relief equipment operator, a miner and a full-time employee of Big Elk Creek Coal Company, Inc. was duly elected by the miners as their representative and participated in the investigation since they were not otherwise represented by a collective bargaining unit. Interviews were conducted jointly with the Kentucky Department of Mines and Mineral at Hazard, Kentucky. Two members of mine management and seven miners were interviewed.


The following physical factors were determined to be relevant to the occurrence of the accident:

  1. The truck involved was a 1983 Caterpillar, Model 777A, rock truck, serial number 84A01263, company number 606.

  2. The dump area of the no. 8 pit location measured approximately 130 feet wide and had a partially intact berm varying in height from 2.5 to 6 feet. A section of the berm had been reduced due to compaction resulting from the truck tires backing over it, effectively eliminating that section of berm.

  3. The remainder of the of berm material between the tire tracks was no more than 12 to 18 inches higher than the level of the tire tracks due to the compaction of the soil by the truck tires. The bottom of the differential and axle housing of the Caterpillar Model, 777A rock truck was estimated to range from 32 to 38 inches above the ground.

  4. The ground beneath the tire tracks at the dump point was very firm and the material had been compacted, suggesting that the same path to the dump point had been followed repeatedly.

  5. The tire tracks at the accident location were also angled slightly (not perpendicular) approaching the edge of the dump. From this position the truck's right rear wheels (opposite the operator's position) would have over traveled the dump edge first. The truck sustained extensive damage of the right front side completely demolishing the location of the right side mirror. The left (operator's side) mirror frame was intact, but the mirror surface was completely broken out.

  6. The dumped slope had an overall angle of repose of approximately 34 to 36 degrees and was constructed of spoil from various overburden strata ranging in size from fine-grained soils to large blocky sandstone particles.

  7. The difference in the elevation between the top of the dumping location (pit) and the final position of the truck was approximately 212 feet.

  8. The victim was found outside the cab and uphill of the truck's final position.

  9. The observed and tested condition of the Caterpillar Model 777A found the truck had safety features defeated and had diminished braking force, although these conditions were not believed to have contributed to the accident. The truck's transmission was found to be in the neutral position following the accident.

  10. The subject truck was equipped with roll protection and a seatbelt.

  11. The seatbelt was discovered folded and behind operators' seat indicating it was not in use. The operator had a verbal seatbelt policy, which addressed wearing seatbelts.

  12. Weather conditions at the time of the accident were dry and clear.

  13. Interviews conducted subsequent to the accident indicated that the subject pit and dump area had been examined during the shift. The results of interviews conducted indicated that lighting was adequate in the area at time of the accident. All lights on the subject truck, both front and rear, proved operative. One rear back up light was found to be absent a bulb. Broken pieces of the bulb were found deposited on the spoil slope. The bulb was replaced in the light unit and both rear lights were found to be fully functional. The bulb is believed to have been broken during the course of the accident.

  14. Damage to the operator's compartment of the truck including it's factory installed roll protection was found to be minimal.


The accident and resultant fatality occurred as a direct result of the failure of the mine operator to maintain an adequate dump berm at the No. 8 pit spoil dump location. Contributing to the severity was the failure of the mine operator to insure that seatbelts, where required, were worn.


The following citations and orders were issued during the accident investigation:

  1. A 103 (k) order, No. 4463029, was issued to the operator to ensure the safety of all persons at the mine until the investigation was completed.

  2. A 104 (a) citation No. 3402014 was issued to the operator for failure to maintain an adequate berm to prevent overtravel and overturning at dumping locations. (77.1605(l)).

  3. A 104 (a) citation No. 3402015 was issued to the operator for failure to insure that seatbelts are worn by all employees where there is a danger of overturning and roll protection is provided. (77.1710(i)).

Respectfully submitted by:

Elmer Hall, Jr.
Coal Mine Safety and Health
Inspector/Accident Investigator

Approved by:

John M. Pyles
Assistant District Manager
Inspection Division

Joseph W. Pavlovich
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB97C21