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District 9

(Surface Coal Mine)

Fatal Powered Haulage Accident

Falkirk Mine (32-00491)
The Falkirk Mining Company
Underwood, McLean County, North Dakota

August 19, 1997


David W. Elkins
Mining Engineer

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


On Tuesday, August 19, 1997, a windrow of sand and gravel measuring 1.5-feet high by 4.5-feet wide by 0.7-miles long had been dumped along the middle of the 50-foot wide Riverdale haulroad for the purpose of resurfacing the haulroad. At 10:05 p.m., four miners were traveling in a van on the haulroad when the van struck the end of the windrow and rolled 2 and 3/4 times. Harlan D. McKelvey was ejected from the van and was fatally injured when the van landed on top of him. The other three miners were not ejected from the van, but did receive injuries.


Falkirk Mine is a surface lignite coal mine located four miles south of Underwood, North Dakota. The mine opened in 1978. It is owned by The Falkirk Mining Company, a subsidiary of The North American Coal Corporation.

The mine has two active pits. The overburden, ranging from 40 to 60 feet, is removed with two Marion 8750 draglines, each with a capacity of 105 cubic yards. Lignite coal from the 12-foot thick Hagel seam is loaded into Kress 160 bottom dump trucks by a Bucyrus-Erie 195 shovel and a Caterpillar 992 front end loader. The trucks transport the coal to a crushing facility. The coal is then transported via conveyor belt to the nearby Coal Creek Power Plant.

The mine has 247 employees, including 235 surface miners, and has a daily production of approximately 36,000 tons of coal. The mine works two 10-hour production shifts and two 10-hour reclamation shifts per day, four days per week. The mine works several overlapping 8-hour maintenance shifts each day, 5 days per week.

The last regular safety and health inspection at this mine was completed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) on July 28, 1997.

The principal officials at the mine are:
Dan W. Swetich........................................President
Archie M. Gilliss.......................................Safety Manager


On Monday, August 18, 1997, a road improvement project began at the Falkirk Mine. A contractor, Fisher Sand and Gravel Company, MSHA identification number D3H, had been hired to deliver sand and gravel for use in resurfacing the Riverdale haulroad. The contractor was instructed to dump the sand and gravel in a windrow along the middle of the road. A grader from the Falkirk Mine would be used to spread the material at a later time. On Tuesday, August 19, 1997, from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., the contractor dumped 27 tons of sand and gravel along the Riverdale haulroad. Some of this material was spread by a grader during the day shift.

At 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 19, 1997, the third shift began. Six heavy equipment operators were assigned by Brendan Brinkman, reclamation supervisor, to operate heavy equipment in the Riverdale reclamation area. This area was located 3.9 miles southwest of the mine office, and required 2.4 miles of travel on the Riverdale haulroad to access it. During this shift, this would be the only crew in this area of the mine. These miners traveled to the Riverdale reclamation area in a 1991 Chevrolet Beauville van, North Dakota license plate number DBT 868. As they traveled to the reclamation area (during daylight hours) they could see a windrow of sand and gravel in the middle of the haulroad. On average, the windrow was 1.5-feet high by 4.5-feet wide, and the haulroad was 50-feet wide.

At approximately 10:00 p.m., as was normal practice, four of the miners chose to travel to the mine office to eat lunch, while the other two ate lunch inside their equipment. The four miners entered the Chevrolet van as follows: Dean A. Diehl, driver; Ronald J. Sigurdson, right front passenger; Nancy L. Rippley, left rear passenger; and Harlan D. McKelvey (fatality victim), right rear passenger. At 10:05 p.m., while traveling northeastward on the Riverdale haulroad, 0.9 miles from the Riverdale reclamation area and 3.0 miles from the mine office, Ron Sigurdson spotted the windrow and shouted, "Hey". Dean Diehl, who had just looked at the speedometer reading of 45 miles per hour, looked up and shouted an exclamation. At this point, there was not enough time for evasive action and the left front tire of the van contacted the end of the windrow. The van yawed in a counter-clockwise direction, contacted the windrow again, and rolled 2 and 3/4 times. The van came to rest on its left side in the lane opposite from which it was traveling, with its front pointing toward the west.

After the accident, Sigurdson, then Diehl, then Rippley, crawled out of the van through the opening where the windshield had been. They realized that McKelvey did not exit the van with them so they searched for and found him lying beside the roof of the van. Rippley checked for and could not find his pulse.

Approximately four minutes later, a water truck driven by Rick Cowan approached the scene. Sigurdson waved to stop the truck. Sigurdson told Cowan, "He has no pulse." Cowan radioed for assistance. Within five minutes, the mine's ambulance and Emergency Medical Technicians arrived. They could not locate McKelvey's pulse and they began CPR on him. McKelvey was transported to Turtle Lake Community Hospital in Turtle Lake, North Dakota where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The other three persons in the van sustained injuries and were transported to Medcenter One in Bismarck, ND. Sigurdson and Diehl had bruises and lacerations, and were treated and released. Rippley had bruises and a cracked neck vertebra, and was hospitalized for two days.


  1. The northeastern end of the sand and gravel windrow had been marked with orange cones to warn oncoming traffic. The southwestern end of the windrow, where the accident occurred, had not been marked.

  2. Various standardized traffic signs were posted at numerous locations throughout the mine. However, there were no signs posted at a distance from the windrow warning of road construction ahead.

  3. The area where the accident occurred was isolated and dark. There was no lighting provided in the vicinity of the accident, except for the headlights of the van. There were no witnesses to the accident besides the occupants of the van.

  4. Examination of the van after the accident revealed that the headlights were set on high-beam, and that all four headlights were in working order. This examination also revealed that the windshield was relatively clean.

  5. The windrow of sand and gravel was a dull black color with minimal ability to reflect light from headlights.

  6. Physical evidence and testimony indicated that none of the persons in the van were wearing their seat belts at the time of the accident. Testimony indicated that they normally wore seat belts when operating heavy equipment, but they seldom wore seat belts in the van.

  7. All seat belts in the van were examined and appeared to be functional.

  8. The Falkirk Mining Company Employee Safety Manual requires, "The driver and all passengers in a motor vehicle will wear seat belts." All four persons involved in the accident had received a copy of the manual on August 12, 1997. Additionally, the use of seat belts had been emphasized in company safety talks given during the month of August, 1997.

  9. The driver of the van, Dean Diehl, received new glasses approximately two months prior to the accident. Also, he had a valid North Dakota driver's license, and he had never been reprimanded for unsafe driving during his 11.5 years of employment at this mine.

  10. All four persons in the van were tested for drugs and alcohol immediately following the accident. All of the tests had negative findings.

  11. Prior to the accident, there were no distractions to the driver, such as, extraneous materials or supplies in the van, loud music on the radio, etc.

  12. The driver of the van, Dean Diehl, stated that the van was in a safe operational condition prior to the accident.

  13. In the vicinity of the accident, the haulroad was relatively flat. The slope of the haulroad was measured to be one percent, with the downward grade in the direction that the van was traveling.

  14. The speed limit in the area of the accident was 55 miles per hour (mph). Testimony and physical evidence indicated that the van was traveling at approximately 45 mph prior to the accident. Considering the dry, relatively smooth surface, the normal right-hand traffic pattern, the flat, straight, 50-foot wide road, and the driver's lack of awareness of the windrow, 45 mph was a prudent speed. Also, testimony indicated that the driver maintained full control of the van prior to the accident.

  15. There were no skid marks in front of the windrow.

  16. At the time of the accident, the sky was clear and the road was dry. It had not rained that day.

  17. The van had seating capacity for 12 people. There were three rows of bench seats behind the driver's and front passenger's bucket seats. Rippley and McKelvey sat on the bench seat closest to the front bucket seats.

  18. The van sustained major damage to the left side, right side, roof, and frame.

  19. The van had a set of double doors on the right side, behind the right front passenger's door, for loading and unloading passengers in the back. After the accident, these doors were found to be latched shut, and there was a separation between the top of the doors and the top of the van that measured approximately one-foot high by two-feet wide. This opening was created during the accident and it is probable that McKelvey was ejected out of the van through this opening, and was subsequently crushed by the roof of the van when it landed on top of him.

  20. All four persons in the van had received training as required by Part 48 of Title 30 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

  21. It was determined that the windrow did not affect the side clearance of the haulroad. Also, it was determined that an adequate daily examination had been conducted.

  22. In accordance with North Dakota law, the accident was investigated by Trooper Rick Richard of the North Dakota Highway Patrol. He did not issue any citations.

  23. Medical personnel determined that McKelvey died from massive head and chest injuries caused by the van landing on top of him. Therefore, no autopsy was performed.


The accident occurred when the van struck the end of a sand and gravel windrow, measuring 1.5-feet high by 4.5-feet wide by 0.7-miles long, that had been deposited in the middle of the haulroad. The impact with the windrow caused the van to roll 2 and 3/4 times. The fatality victim was ejected through an opening above the two side doors of the van, and was subsequently fatally crushed by the rolling van. The other three occupants of the van sustained injuries.

The contributing factors to the accident were:
  1. Management failed to mark the end of the windrow where the accident occurred to alert oncoming traffic of its existence. Additionally, management did not place warning signs at a distance from the end of the windrow warning of road construction ahead.

  2. Management failed to blade down the windrow before nightfall, and management did not provide lighting in the area to make the windrow visible.

  3. None of the occupants of the van wore seat belts. The occupants wore their seat belts when they operated heavy equipment, but they felt that seat belts were unnecessary in the van. Considering the minimal damage to the interior of the van, it is likely that the occupants would not have received such severe injuries if they had worn their seat belts.


A section 103(k) order, number 7608106, was issued following the accident to ensure the safety of the miners.

There were no violations of Title 30 of the Code of Federal Regulations that contributed to the accident.

Submitted by:

David W. Elkins
Mining Engineer

Approved by:

John A. Kuzar
District Manager

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