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District 5



VP 8 Mine (44-03795)
Island Creek Coal Company
Mavisdale, Buchanan County, Virginia

January 29, 1999


Roy D. Davidson
Electrical Engineer

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


Island Creek Coal Company's VP 8 mine is located three miles south of Oakwood on State Route 624 in Buchanan County, Virginia. Island Creek Coal Company was purchased by Consolidation Coal Company in 1993 and is presently a subsidiary of Consolidation Coal Company. The VP 8 mine was formed in 1994 by the consolidation of the Garden Creek Pocahontas Company's (a subsidiary of Island Creek Coal Company) Virginia Pocahontas 6 Mine (ID No. 44-04517) and Island Creek Coal Company's Virginia Pocahontas 5 Mine (ID No.44-03795). The VP 8 mine retained ID No. 44-03795. The mine was opened by seven shafts into the Pocahontas No. 3 coalbed which averages 70 inches in thickness locally. Ventilation is provided by four fans exhausting 2,570,000 cubic feet per minute of air. The latest laboratory analyses of return air samples at the fans showed a total methane liberation of 9,977,287 cubic feet per day. The face areas are ventilated using a double split system of ventilation and exhausting line brattice. The immediate mine roof consists of approximately 10 feet of shaley sandstone and sandstone overlain by a main roof of sandstone and shale.

Employment is provided for 229 underground and 65 surface employees. The mine operates three shifts per day, seven days per week, producing 11,000 tons of raw coal per day from two mechanized mining units and a longwall section. Coal is transported to the bottom of two production shafts via belt conveyors and out of the mine by hoist driven skip cars. Both trolley and diesel powered track haulage systems are used to transport personnel and materials.

The Roof Control Plan in effect at the time of the accident was approved by the Mine Safety and Health Administration on March 20, 1996. The Roof Control Plan requires, as a minimum, the installation of four foot mechanically anchored or resin grouted roof bolts on a four foot by four foot pattern. Entries and crosscuts that exceed 20 feet in width will have a minimum of five roof bolts per row. Maximum entry and crosscut widths are 20 feet, except the longwall face setup entry, and the belt and track entries which are limited to 22 feet in width. Entry centers from 40 feet to 200 feet and crosscut centers from 40 feet to 275 feet are permitted. Roof test holes are required to be drilled at intervals of 20 feet, in each intersection, and at the projected midpoint between intersections as they are developed. These test holes are to be drilled at least 12 inches above the anchorage horizon of the bolts being installed to determine the nature of the strata.

The Training Plan was approved by the MSHA District Manager on June 23, 1994. The Plan includes provisions requiring training in the Approved Roof Control Plan.

The principal officials for Island Creek Coal Company at the time of the accident were:

President:C.W. McDonald
Vice Presidents:D. D. Auch
B. D. Dangerfield
R. Marcum
R. E. Smith
TreasurerJ. M. Reilly
SecretaryL. J. Mason
Assistant Secretary J. L. Hoover

An MSHA Safety and Health Inspection (AAA) was completed on December 29, 1998 and another was ongoing at the time of the accident.

The Non-Fatal Days Lost (NFDL) incidence rate for underground mines for the last available quarter was 8.13 nationwide and for this mine was 2.43.


On Friday, January 29, 1999, the 4 West Section (003-0 MMU) crew (eight persons) under the supervision of Randall Rasnake, section foreman, entered the mine at 8:00 A.M. Rasnake had received the pre-shift examination results from Ed Blankenship, third shift section foreman, prior to entering the mine. Blankenship reported no hazardous conditions. After arriving on the section about 8:30 A.M., Rasnake conducted a safety meeting until 9:00 A.M. with general ventilation and roof control topics being discussed. Due to no places being ready for production, Rasnake directed the continuous mining machine crew to bolt the roof in the No. 1 Entry and the roof bolting crew to bolt the roof in the No. 4 Entry. Other members of the section crew began to clean up a cut-through between the No. 3 and No. 4 Entries. Rasnake then made his on-shift examinations in all four entries and observed no hazardous conditions.

The continuous mining machine crew, consisting of Jerry Brown and Darrell White, began cutting the face of the No. 3 Entry with the right side continuous mining machine at 12:00 P.M. At 1:30 P.M., Rasnake directed James Simms, roof bolting machine operator, to move the left side continuous mining machine into the 2 Left Crosscut to ready the machine for production when the mining machine crew finished in the No. 3 Entry. Rasnake helped Simms move the machine to this location and assisted with the handling of the machine's trailing cable. At 1:50 P.M., Brown and White completed work in the No. 3 Entry and began work in the 2 Left Crosscut. During this cut, Brown served as the mining machine operator and White as the helper (they occasionally interchanged positions). About 3:10 P.M., the cut in the 2 Left Crosscut was completed and the continuous mining machine was backed out of the face area. White was positioned alongside the machine inby the operator's deck tending to the machine's trailing cable. Brown removed the supporting strap for the machine's remote control unit from his neck and was in the process of laying it on the canopy. The right coal rib fell suddenly, striking both Brown and White. Brown called for help. Golden McFarlane, shuttle car operator, was traveling down the No. 2 Entry after having just loaded the final car of coal in the crosscut when he heard the call for help. McFarlane turned his shuttle car off and ran back to the mining machine. He saw Brown and White lying on the mine floor covered by coal. Mcfarlane removed a large mass of coal from Brown's body. Another large mass of coal was on Brown's legs but was too heavy for Mcfarlane to remove. McFarlane then attempted to remove the mass of coal from White, but it was too large. McFarlane ran to the No. 3 entry and sought assistance from other members of the section crew.

Rasnake and the rest of the crew arrived at the accident site. Being alert, Brown requested that they help White first. At approximately 3:30 P.M., White was recovered. Rasnake, a first responder assessed White's condition and began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). White was placed on a stretcher and transported via a scoop to the mine track. A rail car transported White to the surface where he was transferred to a waiting ambulance. CPR was administered to White continuously from the time he was recovered from the rib fall until the time he was placed in the ambulance. Grundy Ambulance Service transported White to the Clinch Valley Medical Center at Richlands, Virginia, where he was pronounced dead by Dr. Saisal Al-Bukeirat at 5:10 P.M.

Upon examination, Brown appeared to have a broken leg. McFarlane cut the rubber boot from his left foot and Billy Lester, section electrician, placed an air splint on his lower leg. Brown was placed on a stretcher and transported via a scoop to the mine track. A rail car then transported him to the surface where a waiting helicopter transported him to the Bristol Regional Medical Center, in Bristol, Tennessee. He was treated and later released on February 2, 1999.


  1. The mining height at the scene of the accident was 86 inches.

  2. The overburden for the coal seam at the accident location was 2140 feet. This amount of overburden is normal for this mine and had not changed significantly since the beginning of the 4 West Development.

  3. The mine roof in the No. 2 Entry was supported with 72 inch torque tension roof bolts with eight inch by eight inch bearing plates installed on a four foot pattern.

  4. The No. 2 Entry was mined approximately 20 feet wide and the No. 2 Left Crosscut was mined approximately 17 feet wide.

  5. The first cut of coal by the Joy 14CM-9 Continuous Mining Machine in the 2 Left Crosscut was made by the preceding third shift production crew.

  6. The continuous mining machine crew had completed the second cut (approximately 18 feet 8 inches in depth) in the 2 Left Crosscut and was backed out of the face area at the time of the accident. The machine had been de-energized by the remote control.

  7. The 4 West Section consists of four entries used to develop longwall panels. The No.1 and No. 2 Entries are developed on 50 foot centers with 135 foot crosscut centers to establish a row of yield pillars. The No. 3 and No. 4 Entries are developed on the same centers in order to establish another row of yield pillars. These two rows of yield pillars are separated by a stable (support) pillar developed on 180 foot centers with 270 foot crosscut centers. Every other crosscut for the yield pillars coincides with a crosscut for the stable pillars.

  8. The longwall development (3 West) to the north of the 4 West Section had been developed but no longwall mining had commenced in this area. Therefore, north of the 4 West Section a solid pillar of coal 1,000 feet wide existed and south of the 4 West Section was virgin coal.

  9. The face area of the No. 2 Entry becomes the right rib when the 2 Left Crosscut is developed toward the No. 1 Entry. The crosscut is rounded into a 60 degree angle cut for ventilation purposes. Because the cutter drum of the continuous mining machine is 44 inches in diameter, the face cut typically leaves an overhanging brow which feathers out to the radius of the cutter drum (22 inches). Some of the coal that fell from the rib appeared to have been overhanging coal left from the arc formed by the cutter drum (a wedge shape approximately 17 inches by 20 inches).

  10. The Pocahontas No. 3 Coal Seam is composed of three distinct layers in this area. The uppermost layer consists of 16 inches of coal and is relatively solid. Under this coal lies a 1.5 inch thick rock parting or binder. The middle layer consists of softer coal, 48.5 inches thick, which degrades under pressure. The lower most layer consists of 6 inches of rock, two inches of coal and 12 inches of rock. This bottom layer is more solid than the middle layer.

  11. The fall of rib measured 18 feet 8 inches in length, 25 inches in maximum width, and 55 inches in height. This fall of rib incorporated the upper two layers.

  12. Four areas outby the accident location in the No. 2 entry contained loose and unsupported ribs. These areas began from the last open crosscut to within approximately 60 feet of the accident location and ranged from 7 to 17 feet in length, 86 inches in height, and up to 15 inches in depth.

  13. The No.'s 1, 3 and 4 Entries on this section had loose and unsupported ribs. These conditions were cited on a separate inspection activity and did not contribute directly to the accident.


The accident occurred because the coal rib in the No. 2 Entry Face at the 2 Left Crosscut on the 4 West Section was not supported or otherwise controlled to protect persons from hazards related to falls of ribs or coal outbursts. Contributing to the fall of rib were the following factors: (1) the overburden above this section was 2140 feet causing vertical stress, (2) the coal seam was more than seven feet in height with vertical strength characteristics diminished because of a soft middle layer of coal, and (3) the overhanging brow caused by the arc formed from the mining machine's cutter drum.


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

  1. A 103-K Order (No. 7303632) 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.

  2. A 104(a) Citation (No. 7296982) was issued citing 30 CFR 75.202(a). The coal rib in the No. 2 Entry Face at the 2 Left Crosscut was not supported or otherwise controlled to protect persons from hazards related to falls of ribs or coal outbursts. Four additional areas of loose and fractured ribs existed on the right rib of the No. 2 Entry outby the accident location.

Submitted by:

Roy D. Davidson
Electrical Engineer

Approved by:

Billy G. Foutch
Acting District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB99C03