Skip to content

District 8


Fatal Roof Fall Accident

Eagle Valley Mine (ID Number 11-02846)
Coal Miners, Inc.
Equality, Gallatin County, Illinois

July 31, 1999


Robert M. Montgomery
Mine Safety and Health Specialist


Michael E. Pike
Mine Safety and Health Specialist

Originating Office -- Mine Safety and Health Administration
2300 Old Decker Road, Suite 200, Vincennes, Indiana 47591
James K. Oakes, District Manager


Eagle Valley Mine is in Gallatin County, Illinois, about seven miles south of the city of Equality. A & F Coal Company, Inc. opened the mine, originally known as Arclar Mine Underground, for Tek-Bar Industries, Inc. (Tek-Bar) in 1984 in the Illinois No. 5 Seam. Effective January 1, 1990, Tek-Bar merged with two other companies with the surviving company being Arclar Company. In July 1990 Sugar Camp Coal, LLC, (Sugar Camp) bought the mine. The operator became Coal Miners, Inc. (CMI) and the mine name changed to Eagle Valley Mine. CMI is a contract operator for Sugar Camp. Black Beauty Coal Company (Black Beauty) owns controlling interest in Sugar Camp. CMI began mining in the Davis Seam, also known as the Illinois No. 2 Seam, in 1995, and now mines coal simultaneously in both coal beds. Black Beauty operates a surface mine, Wildcat Hills Mine, I.D. 11-03017, that partly overlies both seams of the Eagle Valley Mine.

The depth of cover over the No. 5 Seam averages 160 feet, but varies from outcropping to the surface to about 260 feet. The maximum depth of cover over the Davis Seam is about 440 feet, but averages about 300 feet. Some workings in the Davis Seam underlie the workings in the No. 5 Seam and the separation between seams is about 230 feet. The No. 5 Seam averages 50 inches in thickness while the Davis Seam averages 43 inches in thickness. Five drift portals and a newly excavated dual compartment shaft reach the No. 5 Seam. Reaching the Davis Seam is a slope from the No. 5 Seam and a separate dual compartment shaft from the surface that does not pass through the No. 5 Seam. Miners enter both seams through the No. 5 Seam portals. Davis Seam miners travel through a set of doors in the No. 5 Seam to reach the slope to the Davis Seam that starts down just inby the drift portals.

Two exhausting main mine fans ventilate the No. 5 Seam and a third exhaust main mine fan ventilates the workings in the Davis Seam. Each seam has a separate ventilation system and a separate belt conveyor system. The belt entry and the area near the top of the slope in the No. 5 Seam are common with the Davis Seam, but permanent ventilation controls separate the two ventilation systems in the No. 5 Seam. MSHA District 8 completed the last AAA-Safety and Health Inspection (regular inspection) on June 24, 1999. An ongoing regular inspection began July 9, 1999, and the mine is on an ABE-103(i) Spot (15-day) Inspection cycle. During the last completed regular inspection District 8 determined the 24-hour methane liberation to be 77,000 cubic feet.

The immediate roof strata for the Davis Seam consist of dark gray shale � to 1-foot thick and gray shale from 5 to 12-foot thick. Sandy shale and sandstone 5 to 16 feet in thickness make up the main roof. Eagle Valley Mine's roof control plan in effect at the time of mining the accident area required, at a minimum, the installation of 30-inch long 5/8 inch diameter conventional bolts on a maximum five by five-foot pattern. Typically, CMI installed 60-inch fully grouted 3/4-inch diameter grade 60 rods. The plan limited panel entry and crosscut widths to 20 feet but the belt entry for the continuous haulage system could be 21.5 feet wide. A minimum of 5 roof bolts had to be installed per row in the roof in the continuous haulage belt entry. At four-way intersections the plan limited the average diagonal distance to 35 feet. Approved entry and crosscut centers ranged from 45 to 60 feet.

Eagle Valley Mine uses four continuous miner units for development work, two in the upper seam and two in the lower seam. Battery ram cars are employed in the No. 5 Seam and mobile bridge conveyors in the Davis Seam for coal haulage. The mine operates two production shifts and one maintenance shift per day and the average daily coal production is about 7,100 tons of clean coal per day. CMI uses open-top non-permissible diesel-powered equipment for transportation of personnel and equipment throughout the mine. Coal is transported from the units to the surface by conveyor belts. The mining method employed consists of multiple entry main and submain development and multiple entry panel and room development. No second mining is practiced. The travelway entry is designated as the alternate escapeway and is isolated with the belt entry and other neutral entries throughout most of the mine. Eagle Valley Mine employs 286 miners of which 92 miners work underground in the No. 5 Seam and 146 in the Davis Seam. Miners are represented by the Stove, Furnace, Energy, and Allied Appliance Workers Division of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers union.

Black Beauty mines coal from two pits in the Illinois No. 6 Seam above the Eagle Valley Mine. The separation between the No. 6 Seam and the No. 5 Seam is about 90 feet and between the No. 6 Seam and the Davis Seam about 320 feet. Wildcat Hills Mine regularly blasts the overburden above the No. 6 Seam during the surface mining cycle. The overburden consists of sandstone, limestone, and shale and varies from 10 feet to 150 feet in thickness. Since blasting would occur within 500 feet of the Eagle Valley Mine, Black Beauty prepared and submitted a blasting plan to District 8. The plan requires that miners in the Eagle Valley Mine be kept a minimum of 1,000 feet from the blast area and involves monitoring the vibration levels encountered underground. It also requires radio/telephone communication be maintained between surface and underground mine personnel during blasting operations within 500 feet of active underground mine areas.

Black Beauty manages individual blast events to reduce vibration levels in Eagle Valley Mine to avoid any decrease in the strength or integrity of the mine roof. Vibronics, Inc. (Vibronics), a blasting consultant to Black Beauty, installed vibration detection devices by bolting them to the roof in both the Davis Seam and the No. 5 Seam. They also placed a unit on the surface directly above the two underground devices and put sensors in other locations. A report by Vibronics of their findings dated February 9, 1998, is part of the blasting plan. Vibronics reports that very little vibration has been detected in either seam. CMI stated that they have found no indication of roof material being dislodged by the blasting. They declare that the underground miners have not felt any blasts nor have they experienced any problems or adverse effects from the surface blasting operations.


At 10:30 p.m. July 30, 1999, the "A" Crew under the supervision of Ronnie B. Hughes, Mine Manager, entered the Davis Seam. Thirteen miners of the "A" Crew traveled to Number 3 Unit in the 1st North off the 1st West with Anthony S. Kendall, Supervisor. Production started soon after arrival and continued until about 3:30 a.m. when a roof fall occurred in the belt entry six crosscuts outby the face. The roof fell from about one foot above the roof bolt anchorage zone covering part of the low-frame belt conveyor. Since the unit was near the end of the mining planned for the panel, management decided to move the unit to the next panel setup which was at the end of the 3A belt conveyor tail. The Number 3 Unit Crew spent the remainder of the shift timbering the perimeter of the fall and preparing to move the equipment. At the end of the work shift, about 7:00 a.m., Kendall and five of the miners departed the Number 3 Unit for the surface on a diesel- powered personnel carrier, a Dapco Inc. Rib Runner. A second personnel carrier followed about 10 minutes later.

About 7:12 a.m. the first personnel carrier slowed to make a turn as it approached the intersection of the 3A Travelway entry with the Main West belt conveyor entry. As the carrier slowed, Ben Bramlet, driver, saw a rock fall to the right of him striking a passenger and immediately stopped the personnel carrier. Thomas F. McDonough, another passenger, saw the rock hit James W. Ferrell (victim). McDonough then saw Ferrell raise himself forward briefly and collapse backward and immediately went to his aid. No other response came from the victim. McDonough checked Ferrell's vital signs finding a faint pulse and detecting some respiration. Sensing the injuries were severe, Kendall ran to a phone near the 3A belt conveyor head roller and called surface personnel to arrange for an ambulance. When he returned, he observed that the victim seemed unconscious. While the crew prepared Ferrell to be transported from the mine, Kendall returned to the phone to make sure the ambulance had been called and advised the surface personnel of Ferrell's condition. McDonough knelt over the victim and placed his hands on each side of Ferrell's head for support. With only the victim and McDonough on board, Bramlet drove the personnel carrier toward the surface. The remainder of the crew stayed behind.

When Bramlet, McDonough, and Ferrell reached the bottom of the slope, they met James A. Tabor, Safety Manager and an Emergency Medical Technician. Tabor examined Ferrell and detected a faint pulse and shallow respiration. After the brief examination, he instructed Bramlet to continue to the surface. Bramlet drove the personnel carrier with McDonough and Ferrell on board up the slope and out the portal to the surface. Upon arriving on the surface they met Stephen Short, Vice President of Sugar Camp, who examined Ferrell and detected no pulse or respiration. Short and Gary Reeder, Mine Examiner, immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). After a period, Gene L. McGregor, President CMI, and Tabor relieved Short and Reeder in administering CPR. Ten to fifteen minutes after starting CPR, an ambulance arrived and transported Ferrell to the Harrisburg Medical Center, Inc. in Harrisburg, Illinois. Thomas J. Bucinski, MD, the attending physician, pronounced Ferrell dead at 8:10 a.m.


  1. The accident area had been mined with a continuous miner with mobile bridge conveyors in January 1997, which was soon after mining started in the Davis Seam.

  2. Originally, the area where the accident occurred was a crosscut from the belt entry to the adjacent neutral entry, a part of the 7-entry Main West. At the time of the accident the crosscut was part of the 3A Travelway.

  3. The accident occurred at the junction of the Main West with the 1st North Panel. The Main West is sealed 3 crosscuts inby the 3A Travelway.

  4. The main roof consists of sandy shale and sandstone. The immediate roof is dark gray shale, known locally as black shale.

  5. The rock that struck the victim was a piece of dark gray shale measuring 5 inches thick, 12 to 15 inches wide, and 24 inches to 25 inches long. A slickensided joint intersected the bedding plane at an angle of about 45 degrees.

  6. The Davis Seam thickness varies from 38 inches to 48 inches. During original mining CMI removed some dark gray shale in the accident area the roof uneven and higher.

  7. At the accident scene the distance from the mine roof to the mine floor measured 6 feet. The victim was seated on the personnel carrier when struck on the face and chest by the piece of rock. Based on the dimensions of the personnel carrier the rock fell about 3.5 feet before striking the victim.

  8. At the point of the accident the mining width measured 18.7 feet. This distance was 1.3 feet less than the maximum permitted by the approved roof control plan.

  9. The 3A Travelway was supported with 5-foot long fully grouted grade 60 steel roof bolts. This type of support and length of support exceeded the minimum requirements of the roof control plan.

  10. Roof bolts in the 3A Travelway bolts were installed on 4-foot centers across the entry and with a separation between rows of bolts varying between 4 and 5 feet. This spacing was less than the maximum permitted by the roof control plan.

  11. During the investigation the investigators inspected the travelways in both seams for hazardous roof conditions and found none.

  12. Six roof falls above the anchorage zone occurred in the Davis Seam since January 1, 1999. None of these falls were closer than 5,000 feet to the accident scene.

  13. The mine roof was coated with rock dust and was damp. No evidence of the roof sloughing existed since the last rock dusting.

  14. Aaron S. Rolston, examiner, did a preshift examination of the 3A Travelway between 3:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. He certified his examination by initials, date, and the time on a date board, a piece of conveyor belt, hung in the Main West belt entry 22 feet away from the accident. When interviewed, he stated he had driven to the date board, marked his certification, and then drove up the 3A Travelway under the area that had fallen. He also asserted he had looked back at the irregularity in the roof and saw no change or indication of a loose roof. Rolston recorded the results of this examination in a book provided for that purpose on the surface. Rolston passed through the accident area three times during his preshift examination.

  15. Wildcat Hills Mine blasts the overburden regularly. Black Beauty set the last shot off before the accident at 7:46 a.m. July 30, 1999, about 23 hours 32 minutes before the accident. The blast occurred about 8,400 feet from the accident site.

  16. Wildcat Hills Mine's closest pit is about 7,400 feet away from the accident scene. About 6,900 feet is as close as the pit ever came to the accident site.

  17. The crew and victim were being transported on a diesel-powered Dapco Inc. DP8-L Utility Vehicle, Serial Number 0107.

  18. The accident area is about 8,800 feet away from the Number 3 Unit where the crew had been mining.

  19. A review of the training records showed that all required training was up-to-date.


A 110-pound piece of rock fell from between roof bolts striking the victim in the face and chest causing crushing injuries and trauma to the heart. A slickensided joint existed in the mine roof that was not visible and went undetected. The rock fell without warning.


Robert M. Montgomery, Mine Safety and Health Specialist, issued a Section 103(k) order, Number 7568888, to ensure the safety of all persons in the mine until an investigation was completed and the area determined to be safe.

Respectfully Submitted by:

Robert M. Montgomery
Mine Safety and Health Specialist

Michael E. Pike
Mine Safety and Health Specialist

David L. Whitcomb
Assistant District Manager

Approved by:

James K. Oakes
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin: FAB99C22