CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of Massey Energy's top executives has traded his power office for the soot-covered depths of the West Virginia coal mine where an explosion killed 29 men.
Chris Adkins, chief operating officer of the S&P 500 coal company, led Massey exploration teams into the Upper Big Branch for nearly a month, spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said. For most of June, teams of Massey, federal and state employees, including Adkins, explored the mine to make sure it was safe enough for government, company and union investigators to work without oxygen tanks and free from risk of explosion or fire.
Adkins is still working underground as part of the company's investigation into the April 5 tragedy. The explosion also is the subject of civil and criminal investigations.
"He's our top mining guy," Gillenwater said. "It seems reasonable that he would be involved."
Adkins' salary and bonus totaled roughly $950,000 in 2009, according to company documents, and his stature in the company would allow him to steer clear of such hands-on work in the mine if he wanted to.
"It's unusual, but if you know Chris Adkins it's not that unusual for him," said Ron Wooten, West Virginia's mine safety chief.
Adkins, 44, started working underground for Massey subsidiary Rawl Sales & Processing Co., in 1985. He's worked as a section foreman and later plant supervisor, but long ago graduated to the executive ranks at several subsidiaries before becoming vice president of Massey's underground production. It was just May 28 that he received his certification as a mine-rescue team member.
Besides serving as Richmond, Va.-based Massey's chief operating officer, Adkins is one of Massey's two senior vice presidents.