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Report of Investigation
(Underground Coal Mine)

Fatal Electrical Accident
May 21, 2002

Huff Creek No.1
Lone Mountain Processing, Inc.
Holmes Mill, Harlan County, Kentucky

Accident Investigator

Billy A. Parrott
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office:
Mine Safety and Health Administration
District 7
3837 S. U.S. Hwy. 25 E, Barbourville, Ky 40906
Joseph W. Pavlovich, District Manager

Report Release Date: January 15, 2003


At approximately 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, 2002, a fatal electrical accident occurred at the coal hauler battery charging station for the 003 working section of the Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., Huff Creek No.1 mine. The mine is located near Holmes Mill, Harlan County, Kentucky. The battery charging station is located in the development entries of the No. 3 panel. Mike Kunkel, a 50-year old electrician with 24 years of mining experience, suffered fatal electrical injuries while trouble-shooting a distribution box located at the battery charging station.

There were no eyewitnesses to the accident. Based upon the physical evidence observed at the scene and statements obtained during interviews, it is the consensus of the accident investigation team that the accident and resulting fatality occurred as a result of the victim performing trouble- shooting on the 003 section battery charging station distribution box without wearing proper protective gloves.

General Information

The Huff Creek No.1 mine, located near Holmes Mill, Kentucky, is owned and operated by Lone Mountain Processing Inc. The mine employees 163 persons underground and seven person on the surface. Two slopes and a shaft into the B-Seam, which averages 54 inches in thickness, open the mine. The mine produces coal on four working sections, three shifts per day, five days per week. Maintenance and support work is performed on a rotating basis that varies, depending on the section.

The mine produces an average of 3000 tons of coal daily. Coal is transported from the face using battery powered coal haulers. The roof is supported during advance mining using Fletcher DD013 Dual Head roof bolting machines equipped with automated temporary roof support systems (ATRS). During retreat mining the roof is controlled utilizing timbers and cribbing installed according to the approved roof control plan. Currently, the mine consists of four working sections, main entries, panels, and gob areas created by pillar extraction. Ark Land Company owns the land.

The principle officers of the operation are as follows:
Thomas Baumgarth General Manager
James E. Florczak Vice President / Treasurer
Miriam Rogers Singer Secretary
William H. Rose Assistant Secretary
The last Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regular Safety and Health Inspection (AAA) was completed on March 28, 2002.

Description of Accident

The third shift for the 003 section began, as scheduled, at approximately10:30 p.m. on May 20, 2002, under the supervision of Tom Middleton, section foreman. A coal hauler operator on the previous shift had informed the section repairman on that shift that he had had problems with one of the circuit breakers located at the coal hauler battery charging station. As the third shift miners arrived on the 003 section, the second shift repairman relayed that same information to Michael Kunkel, the third shift section electrician. After completing two cuts, the continuous mining machine developed problems with the head shaft. After Kunkel repaired the machine, he informed Middleton that he was traveling to the battery charging station to make needed repairs.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. Kunkel contacted Daniel Boggs, 3rd Shift Maintenance Foreman on the mine phone. According to Boggs, he stated that he was having problems with a circuit breaker at the battery charging station's 480-volt distribution box. He stated that the breaker would not stay engaged due to an under voltage problem. Kunkel stated that he had checked all of the control fuses and that they were found to be functional. Boggs informed Kunkel that due to other work requirements he could not come to the battery charging station at that time. He told Kunkel to "take the power off that distribution box" and look for burnt wires on the control transformer. Kunkel stated that he would do so.

Approximately 2 hours after Kunkel had left the working section Middleton attempted to contact him on the mine phone. When he did not receive a response, Middleton checked the section power center and the toolbox area. Kunkel was not in either area. Middleton then traveled to the coal hauler battery charging station. The battery charging station is located 15 crosscuts from the section.

Upon arriving at the battery charging station Middleton reportedly saw Kunkel's personnel carrier (buggy). Checking the charging station area he observed Kunkel lying on his back near the 480-volt distribution box. Middleton further observed that Kunkel's leg appeared to be touching the distribution box and that a side panel door was open and the top lid had been removed from the box. Middleton called to Kunkel but received no response. Fearing that Kunkel may be exposed to an electrical current, Middleton did not touch him. A visual check for respiration indicated that Kunkel was not breathing.

Using the mine phone to initiate emergency response, Middleton initially contacted the mine warehouse located on the surface. He instructed warehouse personnel to contact an ambulance. Eddie Owens, electrician, traveling in another area of the mine, heard Middleton's calls for assistance and stopped at 3-South head-drive. Middleton instructed him to come to the battery charging station and to lock and tag out the power circuit supplying power to the station.

Middleton also contacted Robert Hall, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) located on the 003 section, and instructed him to come to the battery charging station. Hall, along with Jeffery Birchfield, another EMT on the 003 section, and Jerry Blakley, Ram Car Operator, traveled to the accident scene. Just before arriving at the scene they were met by Middelton. He instructed them not to touch Kunkel until Owens had indicated that the power circuit to the charging station had been disconnected. Middleton then returned to the working section.

Owens traveled from 3-South Mains to the power center that supplies power to the battery charging station. This power center is located at the twentieth crosscut on the 3-North Mains. He then disconnected and locked-out the power circuit going to the 003-section battery charging station. Owens then traveled the five crosscuts to the battery charging station. Upon arriving, he observed Kunkel lying on the mine floor near the charging station's distribution box. Owens checked Kunkel for vital signs. None were detected. At that time Hall, Birchfield, and Blakley arrived at the scene with a first aid kit. Owens informed them of Kunkel's condition. Within minutes, Boggs, Gregg Miles, EMT, and Nick Wright, EMT, arrived. Boggs checked Kunkel for vital signs and found none. Boggs instructed the warehouse personnel, by mine phone, to start contacting the required people and agencies.

After contacting other areas of the mine and informing them of the situation, Boggs traveled to the surface area. Boggs then traveled back to the scene with Davin Hoskins and Ronnie Hampton, Inspectors, Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals (KDMM), Kevin Doan, Coal Mine Safety and Health (CMS&H) Inspector and Donnie Feltner, Company Safety Director. After they observed the scene, the victim was transported to the surface. Philip Bianchi, Harlan County Coroner, pronounced the victim dead at 6: 40 a.m. Kunkel was transported from the mine by Mountain EMS Ambulance Service.

Investigation of Accident

At approximately 4:20 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, 2002, Kevin Doan, (CMS&H) Inspector in the Harlan Field Office, was notified at his home by James Vicini, Lone Mountain Processing Safety Director, that an accident had occurred. Doan notified Robert Rhea, (CMS&H) Supervisor in the Harlan Field Office, who then notified John Pyles, Assistant District Manager of Enforcement.

Pyles promptly assembled an Accident Investigation Team consisting of William Johnson, (CMS&H) Supervisor, Billy Parrott, (CMS&H) Inspector-Lead Accident Investigator, and Don McDaniels, (CMS&H) Electrical Inspector. The team was dispatched to the mine to begin the investigation. Preliminary information was gathered and the accident scene was examined.

MSHA's McDaniels, David Johnson and Sherrill Fouts, Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals (KDMM) checked the battery charging station's distribution box, the chargers and the power box supplying electricity to the distribution box. An examination of the No. 6 circuit breaker was conducted. When the circuit breaker was disassembled the internal components were found to be damaged. The internal reset mechanism that engaged the breaker was broken, preventing the breaker from engaging. According to the electrical specialists, this condition would give the appearance of an undervoltage problem.

MSHA and KDMM jointly conducted the investigation with the assistance of mine management and the miners. Formal interviews were conducted at the MSHA field office in Harlan, Ky., in conjunction with KDMM, on May 22, 2002. Ten interviews were conducted. None of those interviewed requested their statements be kept confidential.

A list of persons who were present and/or participated in the investigation is included. (See Appendix A)

Physical Factors

The following physical factors were determined to be relevant to the occurrence of the accident.
  1. The accident occurred at the coal hauler battery charging station, for the 003 section.

  2. The battery charging station distribution box was energized when the victim was found.

  3. The distribution box, serial number IR2259N, was a 480-volt feed-through box, measuring 38" wide, 10' long and 38 � high.

  4. The distribution box contained three uninsulated bus bars located near the top of the box where the lid was removed. The bars run the length of the exposed opening. Observation of the top bus bar revealed areas on the bar that indicated possible points of contact. Dust had been disturbed in these areas.

  5. The trip mechanism for the No. 6 receptacle was broken inside the circuit breaker. This defect prevented the breaker from energizing.

  6. The area around the distribution box was dry and well rock dusted. The crosscut in which it was located was approximately 20 feet wide and 7 feet high.

  7. The victim was not wearing any type of protective gloves. A pair of leather gloves was located on the rear deck of the personnel carrier (buggy) assigned to the victim.

  8. A Triplet 310 Multimeter set to 300 volts AC and a small screwdriver, were lying on the mine floor near the victim.

  9. The emergency stop switch at the distribution box would not interrupt power to the box when activated. This was due to improper installation of the switch and improper installation of the ground monitoring circuit for the cable supplying power to the distribution box. The switch was found not to have been depressed.

Interviews were conducted with mine personnel determined to have potential information related to the battery charging station and the electrical wiring of the station. Based on these interviews and the fact that there were no eyewitnesses to the accident, the exact procedure used by Kunkel could not be determined. However, due to the fact that electrical power was not disconnected from the distribution box and further due to the presence of testing equipment, Kunkel appeared to have been trouble-shooting. Trouble-shooting is a term used to describe testing procedures that can only be performed while electrical circuits remain energized. According to statements obtained during interviews, Kunkel was not wearing protective gloves while performing this task.


Records examined indicated that all required training had been conducted in accordance with Part 48, Title 30 CFR.

Root Cause Analysis

A root cause analysis was performed on the accident. The following root cause was identified:

While trouble-shooting for an apparent electrical problem, Kunkel did not wear protective gloves. Interviews of three other electricians, indicated that the mine operator provided protective gloves to all electricians. Leather gloves were found on Kunkel's personnel carrier. However, it could not be determined whether Kunkel was aware that the operator provided these items or he was ever provided with properly rated protective gloves for trouble-shooting.


There were no eyewitnesses to the accident. Based upon the physical evidence observed at the scene and statements obtained during interviews, it is the consensus of the accident investigation team that the accident and resulting fatality occurred as a result of the victim performing trouble-shooting on the 003 section battery charging station distribution box without wearing proper protective gloves.


  • A 103-K Order, No. 7532499, issued to assure the safety of any person in the coal mine until the investigation could be completed.

  • A 104-A citation, No. 7498599, was issued stating in part, that protective gloves were not being worn while electrical trouble-shooting was being performed on a 480 volt distribution box.
  • Other electrical violations were observed. However these were determined not to have contributed to the accident and were issued on an electrical spot inspection.

    Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
    Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB02C13


    List of persons furnishing information and/or present during the investigation.

    Lone Mountain Processing Inc.

    James Vicini .............. Safety Department
    Charles Russell III .............. Safety Director, Arch Coal Inc.
    Robert Cusick .............. Attorney
    Daniel Boggs .............. Maintenance Foreman 3rd Shift
    Nick Wright .............. Foreman/Pre-Shift Examiner
    Lone Mountain Processing, Inc-Employees

    Robert Hall .............. Coal Hauler (Ram Car) Operator
    Jerry Blakely .............. Coal Hauler (Ram Car) Operator
    Jeff Birchfield .............. Roof Bolter Operator
    John Dixion .............. Electrician
    Donnie Williams .............. Ram Car Operator
    Gordon Pruitt .............. Electrician
    Eddie Owens .............. Electrician
    Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals

    Tony Oppegard .............. Attorney
    Tracy Stumbo .............. Chief Accident Investigator
    Johnny Greene .............. Inspector, Accident Investigator
    David Johnson .............. Chief Electrical Inspector
    Ronnie Hampton .............. Supervisor
    Daven Hoskins .............. Inspector
    George Johnson .............. Inspector
    Technical Support - Mine Electrical Systems Division

    Dean F. Skorski .............. MSHA Technical Support
    Mine Safety and Health Administration

    William Johnson .............. Supervisory CHS&H Inspector
    Billy A. Parrott .............. CMS&H Inspector/Accident Investigator
    Don McDaniels .............. Electrical Inspector/Accident Investigator
    Brian Dougherty .............. Attorney-Office of the Solicitor
    Stanley Sturgill .............. CMS&H Inspector