Skip to content

Rocky Mountain District
Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health

Accident Investigation Report
Surface Metal Mine

Fatal Powered Haulage Accident

Road Machinery Company
I.D. No. U40


Phelps Dodge Morenci, Incorporated
Phelps Dodge Morenci, Incorporated (Mine)
Morenci, Greenlee County, Arizona
Mine I.D. No. 02-00024

February 15, 1999


Richard R. Laufenberg
Supervisory Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Gary L. Grimes
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Joseph F. Judeikis
Mechanical Engineer

Originating Office:
Mine Safety and Health Administration
P.O. Box 25367, DFC
Denver, CO 80225-0367

Robert M. Friend
District Manager


Ernest Robert Lopez, electrical/mechanical technician, age 59, was fatally injured at about 8:45 a.m., on February 15, 1999, when a haulage truck ran over the pickup truck he was driving. Lopez had a total of 28 years, 8 months mining experience, all as an electrical/mechanical technician, one year at this mine. He had received training in accordance with 30 CFR, Part 48.

MSHA was notified at 12:10 p.m., on the day of the accident by a telephone call from the safety manager for the mine. An investigation was started the same day.

The mine, an open pit copper operation, owned and operated by Phelps Dodge Morenci Incorporated, was located at Morenci, Greenlee County, Arizona. The principal operating official was Harry M. Conger IV, president. The mine was normally operated two, 12-hour shifts a day, seven days a week. A total of 2,600 persons was employed.

Copper ore was drilled, blasted, loaded on trucks and transported to various locations throughout the mine in preparation for crushing/milling.

The victim was employed by Road Machinery Company, an independent contractor located in Phoenix, Arizona. The principal operating official was Alfred D. Frederickson, president. Road Machinery Company was a distributor for Komatsu equipment and was at the mine to support and maintain haulage trucks. A total of 35 persons was employed at the Phelps Dodge Morenci Mine.

A regular inspection of this operation was on-going at the time of the accident.


The accident occurred on the south side of the 5050 level, No. 64 shovel location. The site was relatively flat. The turning area for haulage trucks was about 120 feet wide.

The haulage truck involved in the accident was a 320-ton, Model 930E Komatsu, Company No. 622, powered by a 2,700-horsepower, 16- cylinder diesel engine and General Electic AC induction traction wheel motors.

Examination of the truck provided the following information:

mirrors - a 38 3/4-inch high by 10 1/2-inch wide flat mirror on the left (driver) side and a 17- by 19-inch wide convex mirror on the right side of the truck. Both mirrors were clean and sound.

overall length - 50 feet

overall width - 26 feet 10 inches

horizontal diameter of 50/90R57 tires - 12 feet 5 inches

total empty weight - 419,470 lbs.

total loaded weight - 1,059,000 lbs.

The size and configuration of the truck created blind areas that extended several feet to the front, back, and right side of the truck and severely limited the operator's vision. The approximate blind zones in front of the truck were determined during the investigation. Mapping identified three distinct areas within the critical zone. At distances from the front of the truck out to 8 feet 8 inches, none of the visibility pole on the pickup truck involved in the accident would have been viewable by the operator. From 8 feet 8 inches out to 13 1/2 feet, varying amounts of the pole light and flag would have been viewable. At a distance beyond 13 1/2 feet, the entire flag and light could be seen.

The victim's truck was a Model C2500 Chevrolet pickup. A �buggy whip� visibility pole with flag and �worm� light was mounted on the left corner of the rear bumper. The flag measured 8 inches by 11 inches and was mounted directly below the light. The top of the pole extended 11 feet above the ground. The pickup truck did not have the capability to communicate directly with the Komatsu No. 622 or any other haulage trucks. Indirect communication was accomplished by relaying messages through a central dispatcher.

Rules governing traffic control for the safe movement of mobile equipment had been established for the mine. The traffic pattern in the mine was right-hand, except on dumps. Haulage trucks and large mobile equipment had the right-of-way in and around the mine. Small vehicle operators and pedestrians were instructed and trained to always yield.

The weather was dry, mostly sunny and about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.


On the day of the accident, Ernest Lopez (victim) reported for work at 7:00 a.m., his normal starting time. Lopez performed various tasks until about 8:30 a.m., when he overheard a radio conversation concerning a possible electrical problem with No. 628 haul truck on the 5050 level. Lopez had a short conversation on the radio with Charles Hanson, mechanic for the mine operator, about the truck. Hanson informed Lopez that the truck was out of warranty and that mine mechanics would perform the necessary repairs. Lopez replied that he had other work to perform on the truck.

Christina Ratliff, driver of No. 622 haul truck, had been dispatched to the 64 shovel. Ratliff arrived at the level and parked her truck near the cable bridge to the shovel. She waited for a laborer to deliver paper towels that she had requested earlier in the shift. After receiving the towels, Ratliff sounded the horn twice, released the park brake, and began moving the truck into the pre-spot location for the shovel.

David Thomas, dozer operator, had just finished cleaning up on the east side of the shovel and was traveling toward the cable bridge. He saw Lopez approach Ratliff's truck on the blind side and from the rear, stopping his pickup in front of her truck. Thomas believed Lopez was confused as to which truck required maintenance. Thomas made eye contact with Lopez and gestured by hand, pointing to the No. 628 truck parked next to the shovel. Lopez acknowledged and returned an affirmative hand signal. Thomas continued on under the cable bridge, made a loop to his left, and stopped the dozer facing the operator's side of Ratliff's truck. When he saw the No. 622 haul truck begin to move forward, he reached for his radio. Upon hearing Thomas' warning, Ratliff stopped her truck, unaware that Lopez's truck had been run over.

The mine's emergency response team was summoned and rescue efforts were started. A local doctor arrived at the scene and pronounced Lopez dead a short time later.


The accident was caused by failure to follow established rules governing traffic control for the safe movement of mobile equipment at the mine. A contributing factor was the inability of the haul truck driver to see the pickup due to blind spots.


Phelps Dodge Morenci, Incorporated

Order No. 7931387 was issued on February 15, 1999, under the provisions of Section 103(k) of the Mine Act:

A fatal accident occurred at this operation on February 15, 1999, when a contract employee driving a pickup truck was run over by a 320-ton haul truck. This order is issued to assure the safety of persons at this operation and prohibits any work other than rescue procedures in this area in order to assure the safety of all persons as determined by an Authorized Representative of the Secretary of Labor. The mine operator shall obtain approval from an authorized representative for all actions to recover and/or restore operations in the affected area.

This order was terminated on February 15, 1999. Conditions that contributed to the accident have been corrected and normal mining operations can resume.

Road Machinery Company

Citation No. 7923627 was issued on February 22, 1999, under the provisions of Section 104(a) of the Mine Act for violation of 30 CFR 56.9100(a):

A fatal accident occurred at this mine on February 15, 1999, when a contract employee driving a pickup truck was run over by a 320-ton haul truck. The victim approached the haul truck from the left instead of the right-hand traffic pattern established for the mine and stopped his pickup truck directly in front of the parked haul truck. Rules governing traffic control for the safe movement of mobile equipment in the mine had been established, but were not followed, in that the contractor's employee did not yield right-of-way to the haul truck.

This citation was terminated on February 26, 1999, after all employees had received additional training on established traffic controls for the mine. The mine operator committed to strict enforcement of rules governing traffic control for the safe movement of mobile equipment.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB99M07


Persons Participating in the Investigation

Road Machinery Co.

Dennis Faust ................ general service manager
Charles (Butch) Cox ................ safety and health manager
Charles P. Keller ................ attorney with Snell & Wilmer
Phelps Dodge Morenci Inc.
Fred E. Sanders Jr. ................ mine safety manager
Gale Peterson ................ miners' representative
Katherine Shand Larkin ................ attorney
Arizona State Mine Inspectors
Manuel Valenzuela ................ deputy mine inspector
Gregory Becken ................ deputy mine inspector
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Richard R. Laufenberg ................ supervisory mine inspector
Gary L. Grimes ................ mine safety and health inspector