Mark and Rachel Moreland are suing MSHA to try to force the agency to hold the investigation's witness interviews in a public hearing, rather than behind closed doors.
In a legal brief, the Morelands said MSHA officials told miners' families about the missing page during a private meeting on May 5 at Liberty High School in Beckley.
"After much prodding by miners' families," the court brief said, "MSHA admitted that the investigative team determined that one page of a fireboss book had been removed."
The Morelands said "this disturbing example of mutilation of documentary evidence compels the conclusion that, in order to assure evidence is fully produced, and produced unaltered, MSHA must issue subpoenas," something the agency can only do if it calls a public hearing.
Shane Harvey, general counsel for Massey, said Thursday night he did not know what the Morelands were referring to in their court filing.
"I can say that we are cooperating fully in the investigation and have made and will make every effort to preserve and turn over all official mine records to the investigating agencies," Harvey said. "We will not tolerate any effort to alter or hide such evidence."
Massey had called previous news reports about a criminal inquiry at Upper Big Branch "unsubstantiated rumors," and said the company had no knowledge of any criminal wrongdoing.
However, in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court, Mark Moreland said he discussed rumors about a criminal inquiry with MSHA chief Joe Main before the May 5 meeting between MSHA and the disaster victims' families.
"I advised him that it was my understanding that it had been reported that 'another federal agency' had conducted in excess of two-dozen interviews in the community," Moreland said. "Mr. Main responded that he was sure that they likely had conducted far more interviews than that by the time of our conversation."
MSHA records also indicate that, in April and June of 2009, agency inspectors launched two "special investigations," a type of inquiry that frequently is the starting point for a criminal mine-safety prosecution. MSHA has declined to provide details of those special investigations.
Mine safety experts believe the April 5 explosion was caused by the ignition of methane gas and made far worse by the likely buildup of highly explosive coal dust in the underground mine.
So far, government investigators have not been able to get back into the mine to begin their on-site investigation. MSHA has begun continuous monitoring of the mine atmosphere to try to confirm whether the air quality is trending better or worse, after receiving reports from Massey that contradicted some previous readings.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.