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Rhino, Arch cited in two miner deaths

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State inspectors have cited the mine operators in two of West Virginia's 2011 coal-mining deaths, members of the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety learned Thursday.

The West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training cited Rhino Eastern LLC and Arch Coal Inc. following fatal accidents in June and August at mines in Raleigh and Logan counties.

On June 27, Joseph M. Cassell, 33, of Glen Daniel, was killed when part of an underground mine wall collapsed on him at Rhino's Eagle No. 1 Mine near Bolt, Raleigh County.

At the time of the accident, Cassell and other workers were cleaning up parts of the mine wall that were loose and causing potential safety problems. The roof cracked, and part of the roof and wall fell onto Cassell.

State inspectors issued 16 citations, including numerous violations of requirements for mine walls to be stabilized, several alleging lack of property ventilation and one that said Rhino did not have an emergency medical technician on staff at the time of the accident, as required by law. The state report did not indicate which, if any, of the violations contributed to the fatality.

On Aug. 15, Charles M. Hall, 46, of Williamson, was killed at Arch Coal subsidiary Mingo Logan Coal Co.'s Mountaineer II Mine near Sharples, in Logan County.

Hall was killed in a roof fall that occurred while he and other miners were helping to move the mine's longwall machine by moving mechanized roof supports or canopies, called shields, from one underground area to another.

Inspectors cited Mingo Logan for not following a plan to properly support the roof while the longwall shields were being removed. Two of the mine's foremen, Kenny Evans and Jeff Golden, were issued personal citations for not ensuring the proper plan was followed.

State inspectors briefed mine safety board members on the two death investigations Thursday morning during a meeting in Charleston.

Board member Ted Hapney, a United Mine Workers union representative, noted that state mine safety officials weren't notified of the Mingo Logan accident for more than 40 minutes.

John Kinder, the state's supervising inspector in the region, said the company called Logan County's emergency services office within the 15-minute time limit required by a state law passed to speed up mine rescue efforts following the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster.

Kinder said it often takes local emergency officials a while to alert the state Homeland Security Office, which in turn calls the mine safety agency. Kinder said coal operators are considered in compliance with the 15-minute reporting requirement as long as they call local 911 offices.

"They're doing what they're supposed to do, but it's not working," Kinder said. "That happens, and it's going to continue to happen until something changes."

He said some coal operators call him directly to report accidents, but that others call 911 and often provide little information to help emergency responders know what has occurred.

"There are times that we don't get all of the information that we need," Kinder said. "There are some flaws."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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