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Upper Big Branch Mine disaster timeline

By Staff reports

Around 3 p.m. Monday, an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch Mine at Montcoal. A worker on his way into the mine at the time said there was a powerful "whooshing," and rocks and debris came flying out of the mine. Following is a chronology of the week's events. Times are approximate. A precise record is not yet available.

 

Monday, April 5

5 p.m.: Massey Energy issues a press release to confirm that an explosion has occurred at its Upper Big Branch Mine near Montcoal in Raleigh County and information about injuries is uncertain. Ron Wooten, director of the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training, says reports are that at least six miners were killed and 21 are missing.

8:10 p.m.: Massey says seven miners are dead and 19 unaccounted for. A massive rescue operation begins. Rescuers know that underground refuge chambers are designed to support life for 96 hours, if any survivors made it to one of the chambers.

Tuesday, April 6

1:40 a.m.: Massey confirms that 25 miners have been killed, two injured and four remain missing. U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis says, "Twenty-five hardworking men died needlessly in a mine yesterday. I pledge that their deaths will not be in vain." Rep. Nick J. Rahall said, "We will scrutinize the health and safety violation at this mine to see whether the law was circumvented and miners' precious lives were willfully put at risk, and there will be accountability."

2:30 p.m.: Search and rescue efforts are suspended because of high levels of methane and other toxic gases in the mines. On the initial trip inside, crews find three self-contained self rescuer breathing devices that have been moved from their storage place, suggesting the possibility of survivors, but officials say the situation is "dire" for the four missing miners. Crews begin planning the process of drilling boreholes into the mine to ventilate tunnels and make it safe for rescuers to return.

10 a.m. : President Obama urges prayers for the missing miners and for the families of those who died. The process of drilling boreholes continues.

Noon: Kevin Stricklin, coal administrator for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, tells reporters "it's quite evident that something went very wrong here." Stricklin says, "All explosions are preventable. It's just making sure you have things in place to keep one from occurring."

Wednesday, April 7

4 a.m.: Workers drill the first hole into the mine through 1,000 feet of earth. Rescuers also bang on a drill casing pipe to alert any survivors that help is on the way. There is no response.

11 a.m.: During a morning press briefing, Gov. Joe Manchin says rescue crews have only a "sliver of hope" that the four missing miners are still alive deep inside the mine. A second ventilation hole is drilled, as workers rush to rid the mine of dangerous gases.

Noon: MSHA announces it has appointed a team to investigate the mine explosion. "The investigative team will work tirelessly to evaluate all aspects of this accident to identify the cause of the disaster," says Joseph Main, assistant secretary for labor at MSHA.

President Obama phones family members of workers who died and instructs federal mine safety officials to give him a report next week.

4 p.m.: Levels of toxic gases inside the mine are still too high for rescue crews to re-enter. "We're dealing with numbers that are way beyond what we would normally see in a mine," Stricklin says. Massey plans to drill an additional ventilation hole and lower cameras near the location of a rescue chamber to see if the miners can be found.

9 p.m.: MSHA officials announce the air quality in the mine has improved and rescue crews plan to resume their search for the missing miners within hours.

Thursday, April 8

4:55 a.m.:  After watching air quality all night, four teams of eight rescue workers re-enter the mine early Thursday.

9:30 a.m.: Rescuers withdraw again when repeated readings of carbon monoxide, methane and other gases show an explosive mixture. Crews resume drilling boreholes to speed ventilation.

State officials check impoundments nearby to determine if they were affected by the blast. Family members of Marty Bennett, who died in the Sago disaster, drive to Montcoal to deliver a letter and to support miners' families.

Friday, April 9

12:30 a.m.: Two rescue teams enter the mine again.

7 a.m.: Rescuers withdraw again after they encounter smoke.

Workers pump nitrogen into the mine to make the air less combustible. Federal officials say they had been requesting the company bring in nitrogen supplies since Tuesday.

11 a.m.: Funerals are held for miners Benny Willingham in Mullens, Steven J. Harrah in Shady Spring and Deward Scott in Whitesville.

1:45 p.m.: In the White House Rose Garden, President Obama talks of his conversations with family members, praises the courage of rescuers and says, "We're praying for a miracle."

2 p.m.: Funeral for Carl Accord is held in Beckley.

2:30 p.m.: Two eight-member rescue teams rush back into the mine in an attempt to finally reach a sealed refuge chamber where the four miners could be. Rescuers expect the journey deep into that part of the mine to take as long as 4 1/2 hours.

3 p.m.: The 96-hour mark passes. Refuge chambers were designed for 26 people, so it is possible that fewer people could survive in one longer, if they made it to the chamber.

11:30 p.m.: Rescuers find the body of the last missing miner. The refuge chambers had not been used.

Saturday, April 10

12:30 a.m.: Gov. Manchin announces that all four missing miners are dead, bringing the death toll to 29. None of the miners underground had a chance to use the self-contained self-rescuers, Stricklin said.

"This journey has ended, and now the healing will start," Manchin said.

- Staff reports


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