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MSHA - Fatal Investigation Report


District 1




JULY 16, 1998






The Tracy Vein Slope, an underground anthracite coal mine that is operated by Summit Anthracite, Inc., was opened in 1989, and is located � mile south of Goodspring, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

The principal management officers of the mine at the time of the explosion were:

Michael RothermelPresident
John ScheibTreasurer
Larry StraubSecretary

The mine is opened into the Tracy vein by one shaft and four slopes. The vein varies in thickness from five to eight feet. The mine liberates approximately 35,503 cubic feet of methane in a 24-hour period.

The mine employed 13 miners, nine underground and four on the surface. There are two mechanized mining units working one shift per day, seven hours per shift, producing an average of 70 tons of raw coal daily. Coal is blasted off the solid, gravity fed into mine cars, transported to a haulage slope and hoisted to the surface. The coal is processed at Summit Anthracite's preparation plant.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) completed a Safety and Health Inspection (AAA) of the Tracy Vein Slope Mine on June 12, 1998.


On Thursday, July 16, 1998, Michael Rothermel, Foreman, arrived at the mine site at approximately 4:00 a.m. and conducted the pre-shift examination. At approximately 5:50 a.m., M. Rothermel provided the crew of seven miners with their assigned duties. The crew consisted of Courtney Nause, motorman, Kevin Wolfgang, gangway laborer, Jason Dodsen, gangway laborer, Randy Maurer, breast laborer, Adam Laudenslager, gangway laborer, Pete Klinger, monkey laborer, and Gary Laudenslager, monkey laborer. G. Laudenslager (victim) was instructed to acquire four drill steels to drill a borehole inby the No. 46 breast of the 2nd Level East, (MMU 001-0) working section. Klinger was instructed to advance the monkey face of the 001-0 working section. At approximately 6:00 a.m., roof support materials were lowered to the 001-0 working section via the slope gunboat. Shortly afterwards, Klinger, G. Laudenslager, and Maurer proceeded to the No. 32 chute of the gangway (manway) while A. Laudenslager, Dodsen, Wolfgang and Nause unloaded roof support materials at the bottom of the slope.

G. Laudenslager, Klinger and Maurer proceeded up the No. 32 chute to the monkey level to their respective work sites. A. Laudenslager, Dodsen, Wolfgang and Nause proceeded to the working places in the gangway and advancing chutes.

At approximately 8:00 a.m., G. Laudenslager and Klinger assisted Maurer with roof support material for the No. 44 breast. Boreholes were then being drilled by G. Laudenslager near the No. 46 breast area while Klinger performed the drilling and loading operations at the face.

Between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., A. Laudenslager, Dodsen, and Wolfgang conducted mining activities on the gangway level. Nause was loading and hauling coal in mine cars from the gangway face and active chutes.

At approximately 9:00 a.m., Klinger drilled and fired a hitch hole at the top rock side area of the advancing monkey face in preparation for timbering. This hitch was for a proper fit of a planned roof support.

Nause unloaded timbers from the gunboat and transported the supplies to the No. 45 chute on the gangway. He then transported four mine cars of coal out to the main slope area and dumped them. Upon Nause's return to the No. 45 chute, G. Laudenslager (victim) yelled down from the monkey that he needed two rolls of blasting wire. After loading and dumping the trip, Nause delivered the blasting wire to No. 45 chute and then continued to load and transport coal from the gangway and chute areas. On his return from the slope, the trip derailed between the No. 24 and No. 27 chute. At approximately 9:15 a.m., as he was in process of re-railing the cars, he heard a blast louder than normal.

A. Laudenslager, Dodsen and Wolfgang also heard the loud blast. The three miners began to run outby from the gangway face area. Dodsen and Wolfgang noted that the No. 48 chute battery had been partially damaged. At the No. 45 chute, Dodsen observed someone's hard hat. A. Laudenslager and Wolfgang proceeded to the monkey area by way of the No. 32 chute (manway). Dodsen stopped at the No. 45 chute, looked up, and heard Klinger moaning and yelling for help. Dodsen informed Klinger that help was on the way. Dodsen called M. Rothermel from a mine phone located near the No. 46 chute in the gangway.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., Nause observed Kenny Rothermel, part time surface employee, M. Rothermel, and Larry Straub, superintendent, en route from the slope bottom. He was asked by M. Rothermel what had happened. Nause responded that he didn't know. Nause was instructed to ensure that a ladder was installed in the gunboat. John Scheib, hoist operator, then brought the gunboat to the surface awaiting rescue personnel. Nause returned to where the coal cars were derailed. He later returned to the slope bottom, and escorted rescue team members to the No. 32 chute, re-railed the coal cars and battery locomotive with additional help, and assisted in transporting G. Laudenslager (victim) and Klinger (injured) to the bottom of the slope.

Maurer, who was working in the No. 44 breast above the monkey, was the first to arrive at the accident scene. Ken and Mike Rothermel performed CPR and first aid on G. Laudenslager and first aid on Klinger. Shortly afterwards, Anthracite Underground Rescue Incorporated (AUGR) and Tremont Rescue Station personnel arrived and assisted at the scene. Klinger was transported to the surface at approximately 12:20 p.m., placed in an ambulance, and taken by Life Flight helicopter to Geisinger Medical Hospital in Danville, Pennsylvania. Gary Laudenslager (victim) was transported to the surface at approximately 1:00 p.m., and pronounced dead by Sandra Poletti, Schuylkill County Deputy Corner. The victim was transported by ambulance to Pottsville Hospital and Warne Clinic. MSHA was not notified of the accident by the operator. MSHA became aware of the accident by an off duty MSHA employee whose family member heard about the situation on a scanner.


  1. The accident investigation indicated that approved face ventilation was not established or utilized at the advancing No. 50 chute face developed off the gangway, the monkey heading face area, and the No. 46 and No. 44 breast areas of the 001-0 working section. Statements, interviews and evidence in the mine indicated that compressed air lines were being used to ventilate the working faces. Violation issued on a separate event.

  2. The preshift examination conducted on July 16, 1998, failed to disclose that ventilation controls were not installed or being used as required, and the No. 44 and No. 46 breast face areas were not examined. Work was scheduled for the 001-0 working section and miners were permitted to work in areas not properly examined. Violation issued on a separate event

  3. The record made of the preshift examination (conducted on July 16, 1998, between 5:06 a.m. and 5:45 a.m.) did not include a record of hazardous conditions and their locations found by the examiner during the examination. The preshift record book indicated that no hazardous conditions were observed, nor were methane measurements recorded. Violation issued on a separate event.

  4. During the accident investigation, which began on July 17, 1998, methane readings of 0.9% to 1.1% was present from the No. 49 chute to the face area of the gangway. Methane readings of 1.5% to 10% were detected in the monkey heading from the No. 49 chute inby to the face area of the monkey as a result of disrupted ventilation.

  5. On July 22, 1998, the following explosives and detonators were removed by the investigation team from the mine:
    Type 8S ICI explosives--207 full sticks plus 55 partial or damaged sticks.
    Type 7D Atlas explosives--88 full sticks plus 7 damaged sticks.
    306 (0-10 delay) detonators.
  6. It was determined that two boreholes were drilled in the high side coal rib off the monkey approximately 6 inches apart. They were both located approximately 6 feet inby the No. 46 breast. The north hole was drilled approximately 38 feet in depth and the south hole was drilled approximately 40 feet in depth.

  7. On July 24, 1998, two drill steels (5-foot in length), one containing the drill bit, were recovered from the south hole. An additional seven drill steels (3 of which were damaged), and an Ingersoll Rand hand drill, were recovered from the accident scene.

  8. On July 24, 1998, while measuring the depth of the north borehole, a leg wire (green in color) from a detonator was recovered.

  9. Approximately twenty-five sticks of loose Coal Lite 8S explosives and multiple damaged detonators were discovered at the accident scene in the vicinity of the north and south boreholes.

  10. Measurements and tests conducted by MSHA suggest that the north and south drill holes may have either unintentionally connected into one another, or came close to one another, or may have contacted a rib hole in the No. 46 breast.

  11. Due to dislodged timbers and loose hanging coal, the No. 46 breast could not be examined safely in its entirety.

  12. During the investigation, it was determined that non-permissible explosives had been used underground at the 001-0 active working section. On July 22, 1998, 1-full and 2-partial rolls of primacord (detonating cord) were found buried beneath wooden liner boards between the No. 34 and No. 35 chutes of the monkey heading. On July 24, 1998, 2-partial rolls of primacord were discovered and found buried beneath wooden posts and liner boards between the No. 42 and No. 43 chutes of the monkey heading. Violation issued on a separate event.

  13. Four miners working in the 001-0 working section were not qualified in accordance with 30 CFR Part 75.151 to conduct tests for methane and oxygen deficiency. Violation issued on a separate event.

  14. Stemming material was not being used during the process of loading boreholes. Stemming material was not found on the 001-0 working section during the investigation. Violation issued on a separate event.

  15. During the accident investigation, it was determined that immediately prior to firing on the 001-0 working section, blasting circuits were not tested for continuity and resistance using a blasting galvanometer or other instrument specifically designed for testing blasting circuits. Violation issued on a separate event.

  16. The quantity of explosives and detonators outside of magazines and/or original containers exceeded the amount necessary for blasting the working faces.

  17. Four miners who conducted blasting activities prior to the accident were not qualified in accordance with 30 CFR 75.1301. Also, the miners were not under the direction of a qualified person.

  18. The pitch of the coal vein where the accident occurred varies from 72 to 76 degrees, which can increase the probability of material falling during the mining cycle.

  19. Tests conducted by MSHA personnel indicated that static or stray electric current was not present at the mine.

  20. The on-site investigation was completed on August 28, 1998. However, the results of the subsequent testing of explosives, detonators and physical evidence gathered during the investigation were not received until December 21, 1998.

  21. G. Laudenslager, who was assigned to work in the vicinity of No. 46 breast, requested two spools of firing wire from motorman Nause. The firing wire would be necessary to either extend the firing line to a long hole in one of the boreholes or to an unconfined shot used to free a hangup in No. 46 breast. The two rolls of firing line were delivered to the No. 45 chute and tied onto a rope hanging down the chute. The two spools were found hanging down from the monkey.

  22. An in-depth evaluation of the accident scene was conducted to determine if methane gas was involved in the accident. From the lack of evidence of flame and debris accumulations, methane gas was determined not to be a factor in the accident. Additionally, autopsy results of the victim failed to disclose any presence of methane.

  23. Evidence gathered from the boreholes including a drill bit removed from the south borehole, a green leg wire recovered from the north borehole, and three bags of particulate matter collected from both boreholes, were initially sent to MSHA's Technical Support Center for testing. These materials were later transferred to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Forensic Science Center, where comprehensive testing was conducted. The results of these tests indicated that components present in primacord or blasting caps were not found in either borehole. However, tests of the drill bit, leg wire and particulate from the north borehole indicated the presence of un-detonated explosives.

  24. Explosives, primacord and detonators collected near the underground accident scene and transferred from the mine to Pennex Powder Company's explosive magazine were picked up by NIOSH, who conducted chemical analysis, physical examinations, measurements of detonation velocity, and air gap testing of the permissible explosives. The detonating cord (primacord) and detonators were subjected to drop weight impact testing per ASTM Standard Test, ANSI/ASTM E 680-79. Testing indicated that the detonators used by the operator were highly susceptible to initiation by impact. The primacord and explosives tested were far less sensitive to initiation by impact.


The direct cause of the accident was an unplanned detonation of explosives in or around the No. 46 breast of the 001-0 working section. Although testing was conducted on evidence gathered from the accident scene, the source of origin for the unplanned detonation could not be identified, due to the extent of damage from the blast. A significant factor increasing the severity of the accident was improper storage and handling of explosives and detonators. One of the following three factors were considered as a possible cause of the accident:

  1. Un-detonated explosives in the north borehole remaining from a misfire, which could not be totally removed, may have been drilled into from the south borehole or heat generated by the drilling operation may have caused the explosives to burn in the hole which in turn caused an ignition of detonators and explosives in the No. 46 breast or on the floor of the monkey.

  2. Coal or rock may have fallen striking the detonators and/or explosives left in or around the No. 46 breast or on the floor of the monkey level.

  3. An unintentional detonation of the wrong firing line possibly connected to an unconfined shot used to free hanging material may have detonated other explosives in or around the No. 46 breast.


Order No. 7000179, issued under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Section 103(k):

A fatal explosives accident occurred at approximately 9:15 a.m. on July 16, 1998 in the monkey heading (return) of the No. 46 breast of the 2nd Level East 001-0 working section. This order is issued to assure the safety of miners until an investigation is made to determine that the monkey heading is safe.

Citation No. 7001401, issued under Section 104(a) for violation of 30 CFR 50.10:

The operator failed to contact the Mine Safety and Health Administration, District or Headquarters office of a reportable fatal accident which occurred on July 16, 1998.

Order No. 7001588, issued under Section 104(d)(1) for violation of 30 CFR 75.1313(a):

The quantity of explosives outside a magazine for use in the working section or other area where blasting was to be performed exceeded 100 pounds and exceeded the amount necessary to blast one round.

Order No. 7001589, issued under Section 104(d)(1) for violation of 30 CFR 75.1313(b):

Explosives and detonators, which were not being transported or prepared for loading boreholes, were not kept in closed separate containers made of nonconductive material.

Order No. 7001594, issued under Section 104(d)(1) for violation of 30 CFR 75.1325(a):

Blasting of explosives was being performed by persons who were not qualified in accordance with Section 75.1325(a), and who were not working under the direct supervision of a person qualified by MSHA.

Order No. 7001595, issued under 104(d)(1) for violation of 30 CFR 75.1315(b):

Two boreholes, one of which contained explosives, were not drilled at least 24 inches apart. The two boreholes were approximately 6 inches apart.

Vincent J. Jardina
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Mark L. Mott
Supervisory Mining Engineer

Approved by:

Glenn R. Tinney
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB98C16