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District 5

(Underground Coal Mine)

Fatal Fall of Roof

Bee Tree Mine (I.D. No. 44-06744)
Upper Mill Mining Company
Breaks, Buchanan County, Virginia

JUNE 4, 1998


Luther E. Marrs
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

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


Upper Mill Mining Company, Bee Tree Mine, is located on Bee Tree Branch of Cow Fork approximately eight miles West of Big Rock, Virginia, Route 610 off U.S. Route 460. Mining began in April, 1998. Mining height ranges from thirty-six to sixty inches. The mine liberates approximately 16,000 cubic feet of methane in twenty-four hours. Immediate mine roof typically consists of approximately 10 to 15 feet of gray, sandy shale, periodically interbedded with sandstone. The main roof consists of sandstone with a maximum overburden of 685 feet.

Twenty-six underground miners and two surface personnel are employed at the mine. The mine operates two, ten-hour shifts per day, five days a week. Coal is produced on one advancing continuous mining section (001-0 MMU) on the day and evening shifts. Maintenance is also performed during the evening shift. The mine produces an average of 850 clean tons of coal daily.

A room-and-pillar system of mining is employed utilizing remote controlled continuous mining machines, continuous haulage, and roof bolting machines. Employees and supplies are transported to the section via battery-powered, rubber-tired equipment. At the time of the accident, the 001-0 MMU section had been developed approximately 1,700 feet inby the portals.

The Roof Control Plan was approved on April 14, 1998, by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The Roof Control Plan requires as a minimum the installation of three-foot mechanically anchored roof bolts on a four-foot by four-foot pattern. Maximum entry and crosscut widths are 20 feet with provisions allowing the belt entry to be driven 22 feet in width. The plan stipulates roof bolts installed in belt entries, driven 22 feet in width, be installed to within 3 feet of the ribs and timbers be installed along the belt on four foot spacing, up to the continuous haulage conveyor (Long-John). Timbers along the belt are required to be installed within 24 hours after conveyor advancement. The maximum cut depth is limited to 30 feet. Entry and crosscut centers from 60 to 80 feet are required with extended entry centers of 90 to 120 feet permitted in areas of adverse conditions. Roof test holes, drilled 12 inches deeper than the longest roof bolts being installed, are required at 20 foot intervals.

The training plan was approved by the MSHA District Manager on April 8, 1998. The plan includes provisions requiring training on the Roof Control Plan.

Principal officials for the Upper Mill Mining Company at the time of the accident were:

President:Gary Horn
Mine Superintendent:Elster McClanahan
Miner's Representative:None

Principal officials for the Rapoca Mining Company at the time of the accident were:

President:Clyde E. Stacy
President/Director:John Matney
Secretary:Clyde E. Stacy
Treasurer:Clyde E. Stacy

An MSHA Safety and Health Inspection (AAA) was completed on May 18, 1998. MSHA completed their last on site activity May 13, 1998.

The first quarter fiscal year 1998 incidence rate for the mining industry averaged 7.61, compared to 0.00 for this mine.


Wednesday, June 3, 1998, the evening shift crew under the supervision of Randall Smith, Section Foreman, entered the mine at 5:00 p.m. The crew was scheduled to complete mining of three continuous miner cuts left by the day shift, and to begin installing a belt drive approximately 55 feet inby survey station No. 1044 in the 1 South Mains. The installation of the drive was to allow development of a panel to the right, off 1 South Mains.

The crew arrived on the section (001-0 MMU) at approximately 5:10 p.m. Normal mining activities began with Smith operating a mobile bridge, of the continuous haulage system, located directly behind the continuous mining machine. During mining of the second cut, Smith was accidentally forced into the mine roof with sufficient force to injure him. Smith was assisted off the bridge and laid along the rib. Hassell Vanover, General Inside Laborer, replaced Smith as the bridge operator and mining continued. After mining was completed in the second cut, Kelly Davis, Mine Electrician took Smith outside, so he could go to the doctor. While outside Smith telephoned Elster McClanahan, Mine Superintendent. After the telephone conversation with McClanahan, Smith returned to the section.

Upon returning to the section, Smith found that mining had been completed and a cleanup of the section had started. Smith told Elmer Yates, Roof Bolting Machine Operator, to take the scoop outside and change the batteries. While outside the scoop quit tramming and Yates called the section and requested that Davis come outside to repair the scoop.

After cleanup on the section had been completed, Smith instructed Freddie Endicott, Roof Bolting Machine Operator, to take a scoop down the No. 5 entry and remove a permanent stopping. Smith then traveled down the No. 4 belt entry with the rest of the crew via personnel carriers. Smith left Adam Justice, Continuous Haulage Bridge Operator, and Vanover one cross cut inby survey station No. 1044, and instructed them to start taking the belt apart in preparation for installation of the belt drive. Smith continued outby with Freddie Newsome, Greaser, and Randall Woods, Continuous Mining Machine Operator, to the location of the No. 2 belt drive. Billy Laney, Mechanic, and Randall Stiltner, Belt Foreman, were at the No. 2 belt drive when Smith arrived.

Smith crossed the belt conveyor and traveled the No. 5 entry back to the location of Justice and Vanover. Smith was looking for the best route to move the belt drive to that location. Upon arriving at Justice and Vanover's location, Justice stated to Smith that the timbers located approximately 55 feet inby survey station No. 1044 needed to be removed. Justice began removing the timbers by ramming them with a three-wheel personnel carrier. Justice was having trouble removing the third timber and Smith told him to let the scoop knock the timber. Evidence indicates that Justice told Smith that he could knock it and Smith told him to have at it. At about this time Endicott arrived and parked the scoop in the crosscut between No.4 and 5 entries, next to the accident site.

At approximately 1:30 a.m., Endicott exited the scoop to ask Smith which brattice he wanted him to remove. Smith was sitting on the mine floor approximately 15 feet from Justice, who was removing the third timber when the rock fell trapping Justice in the three-wheel personnel carrier. Endicott, Smith and Vanover tried unsuccessfully to free Justice from under the rock. Smith called to the rest of the crew for help.

Laney, Newsome and Woods ran to the site from the No.2 belt drive and from along the belt flight. Stiltner called Dwayne Justus, Outside Laborer from the belt drive and told him to have Davis bring a back board and first aid kit. Stiltner then traveled to the accident site. Upon arrival Smith sent him to the section to retrieve the EMT kit.

Davis and Yates traveled from the surface to the accident site, with the back board and first aid kit. The crew was trying to free Justice from under the rock using bars and a jack. At one point they had tied a chain around the rock and the scoop in an attempt to help lift the rock, but they stopped this method for fear of further injury to Justice.

Justice was freed by lifting the rock with a jack after having been trapped approximately 25 minutes. Laney and Davis evaluated Justice's condition during his entrapment and began CPR when he was freed. Justice was placed on a back board and transported to the surface via a battery powered man trip operated by Vanover with Davis and Laney continuing CPR.

Arriving on the surface, they discovered that an ambulance had not been contacted to transport Justice to the hospital. Laney asked Dwayne Justus where the ambulance was and he was told a telephone number could not be found. Laney called the telephone operator and was connected to the Buchanan County Sheriff Department. He asked them to call an ambulance for him.

Laney and Vanover transferred Justice to the back of a pickup truck belonging to Dwayne Justus and proceeded toward the Buchanan General Hospital. Approximately 15 minutes en route the pickup truck was met by Grundy Ambulance Service. Transportation continued to Buchanan General Hospital via Grundy Ambulance Service where Justice was treated and referred to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tennessee. Due to fog, Grundy Ambulance Service transported Justice from Buchanan General Hospital to Richlands, Virginia and from there by Med Flight to Bristol Regional Medical Center, Bristol, Tennessee. Adam Justice succumbed to his injuries at 12:26 p.m., on June 5, 1998. The attending physician was Dr. Glenn Birkitt.


  1. The investigation revealed that the second shift crew was preparing to install a belt drive, approximately 55 feet inby survey station No. 1044, in the 1 South Mains at the time of the accident. The installation of the drive was to allow the development of a panel to the right, off 1 South Mains.

  2. The investigation revealed a belt trench had been mined in the roof, during the development of the 1 South Mains, to allow for the installation of a belt drive. The trench is in the crosscut between the Nos. 4 and 5 entries, adjacent to the accident site, approximately 55 feet inby survey station No. 1044 (at dislodged survey station No. 1055).

  3. Statements of the mine superintendent and foremen interviewed, indicated that the work being performed had been scheduled prior to the beginning of the second shift.

  4. The investigation revealed the preshift examination conducted for the second shift on June 3, 1998, along the belt flight in the area of the accident failed to detect the following hazards: readily visible wide bolt spacing; loose and damaged roof bolts; and loose draw rock.

  5. The investigation revealed that the task of removing permanent roof support, consisting of timbers set along the belt flight, was in progress at the time of the accident. The investigation did not reveal the normal method of removing timbers along the belt flight during retreat mining.

  6. The investigation and the statements given by the second shift foreman revealed that an examination of the mine roof, in the area of the accident, was not conducted prior to the permanent roof support being removed on June 4, 1998. The absence of an examination permitted hazardous conditions to exist that contributed to the roof fall.

  7. The investigation and the interview statements revealed that the permanent roof supports (timbers) at the accident site were removed by other than a remote means. The timbers were removed by striking them with a three wheel, rubber-tired, battery powered personnel carrier.

  8. Statements given during interviews of the miners and the second shift foreman indicate the second shift foreman was present during the removal of the permanent support (timbers) at the accident site.

  9. The investigation revealed that a section of mine roof material fell from its own weight once the timbers were removed. The section of mine roof that fell measured 90 inches in width by 78 inches in length and from 0 to 12 inches in thickness.

  10. The investigation revealed that the pattern bolts supporting the roof material that fell at the accident site measured approximately 90 inches between non-damaged bolts. Evidence indicates that 2 roof bolts had been previously sheared.

  11. Company records and statements from the Superintendent indicate arrangements had not been made with a licensed physician, medical service, medical clinic, or hospital to provide 24-hour emergency medical assistance for any person injured at the mine.

  12. Company records and statements from the Superintendent indicate arrangements had not been made with an ambulance service, or otherwise provided, for 24-hour emergency transportation for any person injured at the mine.

  13. The lack of emergency transportation arrangements resulted in a delay of adequate emergency medical care and transportation to the hospital.

  14. Based on a review of training certificates and interviews with the miners, the mandated training received by the miners was incomplete. The operator did not comply with the current Training Plan when providing Newly Employed Experienced Miner training at the mine. One of the areas not complied with was training in the Roof Control Plan.

  15. Testimony indicated that when Smith told Justice to let the scoop knock the timbers the bottom belt structure (Rigid Structure) had not been totally removed from beneath the conveyor belt, thus preventing a scoop from reaching across the belt to remove the timbers. Testimony by another witness during the interview process indicated that when Justice said he could get it, Smith sat down and told Justice to have at it.


The accident occurred due to the operator's failure to: examine an area where permanent roof support was scheduled to be removed; control and or support the mine roof in order to protect persons from the hazards related to the fall of mine roof material; remove permanent roof support by a remote means; and conduct an adequate preshift examination of the accident area.


  • A 103-K Order, (No. 7294567), was issued to ensure the safety of all persons in the mine until the investigation was completed and the area deemed safe to work.

  • A 104-D-1 Citation, (No. 7299655), of 30 CFR, 75.213(b) was issued for an examination not being conducted in the area of the accident prior to the removal of permanent roof supports.

  • A 104-D-1 Order, (No. 7299656), of 30 CFR, 75.202(a) was issued for the mine roof in the area of the accident not being supported or otherwise controlled to protect persons from the hazards related to the falls of mine roof.

  • A 104-D-1 Order, (No. 7299657), of 30 CFR, 75.360(a)(1) was issued for an inadequate preshift examination being conducted in the area of the accident. The preshift examination conducted in the area of the accident for work scheduled on the second shift failed to detect readily visible wide roof bolt spacing and loose draw rock.

  • A 104-D-1 Order, (No. 7299658), of 30 CFR, 75.213(g)(1) was issued for permanent roof supports (belt line timbers) being removed by other than a remote means, from a location of inadequate roof support. Three timbers were removed by operating a three wheel personnel carrier into the timbers, resulting in a fatal fall of mine roof material.

  • Respectfully Submitted:

    Luther E. Marrs
    Coal Mine Safety and   Health Inspector

    Approved by:

    Billy Foutch
      for Ray McKinney
    District Manager

    Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
    Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB98C11