Initially, 25 miners were accounted for as dead. Rescuers then spent a week trying to find four others not accounted for deep underground.
The transcripts describe incredibly tense rescue efforts, especially in the immediate hours after the blast, when rescue teams from mining companies and the government desperately searched -- and hoped -- for survivors.
"Our objective was to try to search the coal mine, find those persons and hopefully bring them to the surface," testified Eugene White, a leader of the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training rescue effort.
Testimony from several witnesses describes a confrontation between MSHA rescue team members, their own supervisor and Massey officials Chris Blanchard, Jason Whitehead and Chris Adkins.
MSHA team members became concerned when Blanchard, who was underground, was directing teams to continue underground beyond the official "fresh-air base" without having backup teams available, as required under generally accepted mine rescue protocols.
"Blanchard was telling us that the command center wanted us to go, split up ... and we did not have any backup," Hicks testified.
Hicks and Cook objected and wanted to hear the instructions directly from the senior MSHA official involved in the rescue at that point, District Manager Bob Hardman.
According to Hicks, Hardman sided with the Massey officials, overruling longstanding mine rescue guidelines.
"Bob basically told me the same thing - we have to hurry," Hicks said. "I said, 'Bob, I don't have the [backup] teams here.' He said, 'We have to go.'"
As rescue efforts continued, Hicks and Cook were told the next day by MSHA's top mine rescue official, Virgil Brown, that they were no longer needed for the efforts underground at Upper Big Branch.
"He said that we went through enough and that we didn't need to go through anymore at the mines," Cook testified. "I thought that was a lot of bull. I'm a mine rescue person. That's what I do.
"And I just never did believe that was the reason why we didn't go back underground," Cook said. "I think because we run our mouths and we done what we did when we was in there.
"You know, it's bad enough to try to find 29 people," Cook said. "You don't need to have 40 more to look for."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.