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MSHA News Release: [01/04/2006]
Contact: Dirk Fillpot
Phone Number: (202) 693-9406
Release Number: 06-18-NAT


Federal Mine Safety Agency Launches Accident Investigation
Eight-Member Team to Probe Cause of West Virginia Mine Explosion, Handling of Information on Trapped Miners' Condition


ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today launched its investigation into the underground coal mine explosion that killed 12 miners and seriously injured one additional miner. The blast occurred on Monday, Jan. 2, at the Sago Mine in Upshur County, W.Va. The mine was acquired last year by International Coal Group Inc.

"The purpose of MSHA's investigation is to determine what caused the explosion and whether any safety and health standards were violated," said David G. Dye, acting assistant secretary for mine safety and health. "Then we can take effective action to prevent such tragedies in the future."

An independent team of MSHA mine safety professionals will evaluate all aspects of the accident and response, including potential causes, compliance with federal health and safety standards, and how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' condition. The team will examine the accident site, interview mine personnel and others with relevant information, review records and plans, and inspect any mining equipment that was involved in the accident. Findings and conclusions will be summarized in a formal report that will identify root causes of the accident and document how the incident unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that may exist will also be cited at the conclusion of the investigation.

The investigative team is made up of federal mine safety professionals and experts from around the country. Heading the team is Richard A. Gates, MSHA district manager in Birmingham, Ala. Gates has held a number of positions in his 18-year career with the agency, including ventilation specialist, mining engineer and assistant district manager. Assisting Gates will be John Urosek and Richard Stoltz, ventilation experts in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Dennis Swentosky, ventilation supervisor in Hunker, Pa.; Russell Dresch, an electrical engineer in Norton, Va.; Joseph O'Donnell, field office supervisor in Bessemer, Ala.; Clete Stephan, an engineer in Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Gary Harris, a special investigator in Barbourville, Ky. James Crawford, Tim Williams and Bob Wilson, attorneys with the Department of Labor's Solicitor's Office in Arlington, Va., will assist the investigation team.

Throughout this process, MSHA will work closely with the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training to gather the facts. Since the initial hours of the incident, MSHA personnel have maintained a constant presence at the disaster site, accompanying mine rescue teams underground, providing technical assistance and monitoring ongoing conditions at the site.