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District 5



Dominion No. 16 (I.D. No. 44-06643)
Dominion Coal Corporation
Pilgrims Knob, Buchanan County, Virginia

January 15, 1998


Benjamin S. Harding
Mining Engineer

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
P. O. Box 560, Wise County Plaza, Norton, Virginia 24273
Ray McKinney, District Manager


On Thursday, January 15, 1998, a loaded supply car being pulled along the No. 4 Belt/Track Entry by an eight-ton tram motor came uncoupled. The five-eighths inch wire safety rope connecting the car to the tram motor failed, releasing the car, which began to roll down grade toward the active "C" Section (MMU 003-0). The car rolled down an approximate two percent grade for approximately 1750 feet where it struck a mantrip carrying five persons causing fatal injuries to Leon Presley, Section Mechanic, Dominion Coal Corporation, and serious injuries to Charlie Dye, Foreman, RAT Contractors, Inc. The accident occurred when the wire safety rope between the supply car and the tram motor failed. The time and cause of the uncoupling of the car and tram motor could not be determined.


Dominion Coal Corporation's Dominion No. 16 mine is located one mile northeast of Pilgrims Knob, Buchanan County, Virginia near the intersection of State Routes 638 and 654 on the middle Fork of Spruce Pine. Dominion Coal Corporation is a subsidiary of Jewell Resources Corporation. The mine was opened in June, 1991 with five drift openings into the Red Ash Coal Seam which averages 48 inches in thickness and dips to the northwest at an approximate 2.5 percent grade. The immediate mine roof consists of four feet of shale with a main roof of ten or more feet of sandy shale. The mine is ventilated with two exhausting fans which induce approximately 254,000 cubic feet of air per minute through the active workings.

Employment is provided for 35 underground and two surface personnel. The mine operates three shifts per day, five days per week. Coal is produced on the day and evening shifts and maintenance is conducted on the owl shift. The mine produces 800 clean tons of coal daily.

A room-and-pillar system of mining is employed utilizing continuous mining machines, shuttle cars, unihaulers, ram cars, and dual-head roof bolting machines. Coal is transported to the surface by belt conveyor. A battery-powered track haulage system is used for transportation of personnel and materials. This system utilizes mantrips, locomotives, and flat cars. A block light track signal system is used to coordinate movement of track equipment. Maximum entry and crosscut widths are 20 feet except for the combination belt/track entry which is limited to a width of 22 feet. Posts are required along the conveyor belt on five-foot centers.

Employees of an independent contractor, Rat Contractors, Inc., (Independent Contractor I.D. No. JFW) are utilized at this mine to make belt moves and perform other work outby the face areas. Rat Contractors, Inc. provides a supervisor for their employees and has a training plan approved by MSHA on March 27, 1996. Dominion Coal Corporation's Training Plan for Dominion No. 16 was approved by MSHA on April 15, 1993.

The principal officers of Dominion Coal Corporation are:

Charles E. Ellis........................................President
Rick Waddell..........................................Manager of Mines
Larry Keene............................................Superintendent

The principal officers of Rat Contractors, Inc. are:

Robert Ratliff...........................................President
Paul W. Smith..........................................Safety Director

An MSHA Safety and Health Inspection (AAA) was completed at this mine on November 13, 1997.

The first quarter fiscal year 1998 incident rate for the mining industry averaged 8.33 and for this mine 0.00.


On Wednesday, January 14, 1998, at approximately 11:15 p.m., the owl shift crews scheduled for "C" Section (003-0 MMU) entered the mine. Dominion Coal Corporation's crew was under the supervision of Raleigh Whited, Maintenance Foreman, and Rat Contractors, Inc.'s crew was under the supervision of Charlie Dye, Belt Foreman. After arriving on the section, the Dominion crew of Whited along with Leon Presley and Howard Gibson, Section Mechanics, performed regular clean-up and maintenance duties throughout the shift. The Rat Contractors, Inc. crew of Dye along with Jackie Lester, Ricky Smith, and Gerald Brown, Laborers, performed regular belt recovery duties. As worked progressed, the recovered belt material was loaded onto a supply car which was already coupled to a locomotive.

After preshifting the "C" Section face areas, Whited left the section at 5:40 a.m. on Thursday, January 15 and continued his preshift examination outby in the track/belt entries to the surface. Normal activities continued on "C" Section until approximately 7:00 a.m.

Gerald Brown, boarded the locomotive and moved it and the supply car outby to the track switchback at No. 14 Belt Drive near the mouth of the section and waited for the day shift crew to pass by on the way to the section. Smith and Lester waited for the day shift crew near No. 14 Belt Drive while Dye, Presley, and Gibson waited at the end of the track on "C" Section.

The mantrip carrying the "C" Section day shift crew passed the locomotive and supply car at No. 14 Belt Drive at approximately 7:20 a.m. Brown started toward the surface pulling the loaded supply car with the locomotive. The mantrip proceeded on to the end of the track on "C" Section where the day shift crew left the mantrip and walked to the face area.

Dye, Presley, and Gibson boarded the mantrip and traveled outby toward No. 14 Belt Drive with Gibson operating the mantrip. The block light signal system light at this location was red because the locomotive operator had not cleared the signal switch at No. 4 Belt Drive. At No. 14 Belt Drive Gibson stopped, picked up Lester and Smith, and continued toward the surface.

Near No. 4 Belt Drive the loaded supply car broke loose from the locomotive and began to roll downgrade toward "C" Section. Brown continued on in the tram motor to a point along the No. 2 Belt before he noticed the supply car was gone. The supply car rolled down grade approximately 1,400 feet to the No. 5 Belt Drive. As the car traveled through a 90 degree turn, the loaded belt material slid off and the car continued to travel downgrade. Approximately 350 feet inby the No. 5 Belt Drive, the supply car struck the oncoming mantrip. The impact caved in the front of the mantrip allowing the car to override the front passenger compartment of the mantrip. The wheel/axle unit (trucks) of the car sheared off and dropped into the passenger compartment striking Presley and Dye. Presley was fatally injured and Dye was seriously injured.

After the collision, Gibson, Smith, and Lester checked on Presley and Dye. Dye was calling for help and trying to get out of the mantrip. No response was received from Presley. Gibson sent Smith and Lester to the No. 5 Belt Drive telephone to call for assistance while he helped Dye out of the mantrip.

At approximately 7:30 a.m., Smith contacted Larry Keene, Dominion's Superintendent, located on the surface and requested two ambulances and assistance. Smith and Lester began moving belt material out of the trackway. Brown arrived on the locomotive and was told by Smith and Lester to park out at the No. 4 Belt Drive switch in order to clear the track.

On the surface, Keene instructed Frank Goff, Chief Electrician, to call the Buchanan County Sheriff's Office and request two ambulances. He also informed David Whited, Mine Foreman, and Preston Canady, MSHA Coal Mine Inspector, of the accident and called James Stacy, General Superintendent, and asked him to contact Dominion's Safety Department. Keene contacted both underground section crews and instructed them to take first aid personnel and equipment to the accident scene. Both sections responded and Whited, Canady, and Bobby Ratliff, Supplyman, also traveled to the scene. Dye was given first aid treatment, placed on a backboard, and transported by rail to the surface. He was then transported by Dismal River Rescue Squad to Buchanan General Hospital in Grundy, Virginia.

Presley was then recovered from the mantrip, transported by rail to the surface, and then by Dismal River Rescue Squad to Buchanan General Hospital where he was pronounced dead by Dr. Jackie Briggs, Buchanan County Coroner.


  1. Rat Contractors, Inc. (I. D. No. JFW) is an independent contractor who performs belt moves and other outby work at Dominion No. 16. The contractor maintains an approved Training Plan and supervises its own crews. Work requests for the contractor are posted on the mine bulletin board by the mine superintendent. The contractor foreman assigns individual work assignments to crew members.

  2. All equipment on the mine property is owned and maintained by Dominion Coal Corporation.

  3. The elevation of the track entry from the No. 4 Belt Drive to the accident site along the No. 5 Belt drops 35 feet in 1750 linear feet, a grade of 2.0 percent.

  4. The No. 4 Belt Drive track switch, the last location where Gerald Brown observed the trailing supply car, is at the highest elevation in the surrounding area. From this point outby, the supply car would have followed the tram motor downgrade even if disconnected. Therefore the supply car became disconnected at this location and rolled downgrade in an inby direction.

  5. The use of two switchbacks in the track haulage system created a situation where supply cars are both pulled and pushed as they travel in and out of the mine. Each switchback causes a change in orientation of track equipment. The supply car was outby the locomotive while it was being loaded on "C" Section. After the locomotive was trammed to the switchback at the mouth of the section, the supply car was located inby the locomotive.

  6. The mantrip was a battery-powered Rail Runner Type made by West Virginia Armature Co. The mantrip was maintained in a safe operating condition.

  7. The locomotive was a battery-powered eight-ton model made by West Virginia Armature Co. The locomotive was maintained in a safe operating condition, with one exception. The decoupling lever was broken.

  8. The five-eighths inch wire safety rope connecting the supply car to the locomotive failed. The wire rope ends showed evidence of deterioration, rust, broken and distorted wires. The ends of the wire rope were sent to MSHA's Approval and Certification Center in Tridelphia, West Virginia, which contracted with Professional Services, Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for examination of the wire rope. The results of the tests are summarized in the "Executive Summary of Investigation of Failed Wire Rope Recovered from a Fatal Accident at Domininion Coal Corporation's Dominion No. 16 Mine".

  9. A block light signal system was in use at the mine. The mine's track is divided into blocks with red and green lights and hand operated switches at each end. A green light indicates a clear trackway. Company policy required that no track equipment advance into a block section unless a green light indicated that it was clear. The mantrip operator proceeded off "C" Section without a green light indicated. Brown did not activate the hand operated block light signal switch at the No. 4 Belt Drive to indicate a clear track between "C" Section and No. 4 Belt Drive and give a green light on the section. He stated that he did this because he knew the mantrip was following him out and its operator would trip the light switch. The mantrip operator stated that he proceeded on the mantrip against the red light because he knew the locomotive and supply car were ahead of him and traveling in the same direction. Therefore, he did not expect to see a green light. Some statements given indicated that track equipment could not be operated on any block of track unless a green light was indicated. Some statements indicated that track equipment could advance on a red signal light if the operator had directly contacted the operator of the preceding equipment.

  10. On the day of the accident the midnight shift had to wait for the day shift to arrive before departing "C" Section because the preshift examiner had used the section mantrip. During the change out the locomotive started toward the surface.

  11. When observed, the only defect that could be found in the supply car or locomotive was a broken decoupling lever. The decoupling lever was functional; however, a portion of the lever was broken off. Evidence indicated that the break was not fresh. The break was nearly flush with the coupling housing, decreasing the likelihood of accidental disconnections.

  12. Willison Model HTE couplings were used between the locomotive and supply car. The couplings were tested and examined to determine a situation which would cause the couplings to accidentally disconnect. When tested statically and dynamically the couplings did not fail in any position or situation. The supply car was repaired and loaded with rock dust to simulate the weight and position of the load at the time of the accident. The supply car and locomotive were then coupled and two round trips were made from "C" Section to the No. 4 Belt Drive. The couplings appeared to stay in alignment through the dips and curves of the trips and never became disconnected.

  13. There was no trip light or other approved device such as reflectors on the back (inby) end of the supply car. The location of the accident in a dip and the height of the entry limited the operator of the mantrip's visibility.

  14. The dip of the coal seam, the slight increase in seam height at the bottom of the dip, and the design of the supply car combined to create a situation which allowed the supply car to override the mantrip. The ends of the supply car were raised to clear the underlying wheel/axle units(trucks). The seam was just high enough to allow the supply car to override the mantrip without striking the mine roof.

  15. Statements indicated that the supply car was coupled to the tram motor on the surface the day before the accident.

  16. Statements indicated that no one had uncoupled the supply car and tram motor after they were taken underground.

  17. Statements indicated that the wire safety rope was connected to the supply car and tram motor. No one noticed any defects in the wire safety rope or couplings.

  18. Statements indicated that the belt material loaded on the supply car overlapped the coupling between the car and tram motor.

  19. Witnesses stated that on occasion the wire safety ropes were lain across the coupling to keep them from dragging on the mine floor. The wire safety ropes were attached to points off the centerline of the supply cars and tram motors. This creates a situation in which the wire ropes lose and attain tension and slack while proceeding through turns.

  20. There were no training deficiencies related to the occurrence of the accident.


The accident occurred because the coupling and the five-eighths inch wire safety rope connecting the loaded supply car and the locomotive failed, allowing the supply car to roll down grade where it struck an oncoming mantrip. The wire rope was not maintained in a safe operating condition. The reason the supply car became uncoupled from the locomotive could not be determined.


The following orders/citations/safeguards were issued due to conditions revealed during the investigation.

  1. A 103(k) Order No. 3356067 was issued to ensure the safety of all persons in the mine until an investigation was completed and all areas and equipment were deemed safe to work.

  2. A 104(a) Citation No. 3766661, citing 30 CFR 75.1725(a) was issued to Dominion Coal Corporation for failure to maintain the five-eights inch wire rope in a safe operating condition.

  3. A 104(a) Citation No. 3766662, citing 30 CFR 75.1725(a) was issued to Rat Contractors, Inc. for failure to maintain the five-eights inch wire rope in a safe operating condition.

  4. Safeguard No. 3766663, under 30 CFR 75.1403-10(e) was issued to Dominion Coal Corporation, which requires the use of derails to protect all persons, including independent contractors, from runaway haulage equipment.

  5. Safeguard No. 3766664, under 30 CFR 75.1403-10(j), was issued to Dominion Coal Corporation which requires that no operator of any track haulage equipment including independent contractors, proceed until the equipment operator is assured of a clear road through the block light signal system.

  6. Safeguard No. 3766665, under 30 CFR 75.1403, was issued to Dominion Coal Corporation which requires that no supply cars be loaded beyond the end of the car on the coupling end, that the drawheads of haulage equipment be matched in height and operating range, and that two wire safety ropes or chains of adequate strength be used between any tram motor and supply car and be maintained in a safe operating condition. This safeguard applies to all persons including independent contractors.

Respectfully Submitted:

Benjamin S. Harding
Mining Engineer

Approved by:

Billy G. Foutch
   for Ray McKinney
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB98C01