Wooten, the state mine safety chief, first learned of the Upper Big Branch incident in a cell phone call he received from Elizabeth Chamberlin, Massey's corporate vice president for safety and health. In an interview last week, Wooten said he wasn't sure of the time of that call.
"It broke up, but I heard her say, 'this is very serious,'" Wooten recalled.
Wooten called one his top staffers, Terry Farley, and that call began a cascade of further phone calls. A full timeline of those calls has not yet been made public.
Wooten said his agency's records indicate that no official rescue teams went underground until after 7:30 p.m. -- four hours after Massey first reported the problem to MSHA and the state.
But Massey says one of its in-house teams was at the mine by around 4 p.m., and federal records indicate teams were underground by at least by 6:15 p.m., and perhaps as early as 5:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, though, a crew of six miners led by Chris Blanchard, president of Massey's Performance Coal subsidiary, and Jason Whitehead, director of underground operations, were in the mine for several hours between the time of the explosion and the time official rescue teams were deployed.
Investigators have questioned what Blanchard and Whitehead were doing, and both men have been asked to testify about their activities underground.
Harvey said Blanchard and Whitehead first encountered miner Timothy Blake, who had survived the explosion but was dazed, and helped him out of the mine.
Then they continued into the mine, discovering a mantrip that had been carrying eight miners out of the operation at shift change. The six miners traveling with Blanchard and Whitehead took those miners out, Harvey said. Two of those workers initially had survived, but one of those two, along with the six others who were dead at the scene, later died.
Harvey said that Blanchard and Whitehead remained underground, attempting to reach an airtight rescue chamber near the longwall section. "Subsequently, they did locate victims at the longwall who did not survive," Harvey said.
It's not clear exactly when the three possible survivors -- one of whom later died -- reached the surface. MSHA's draft timeline lists two possible times -- one between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. and another at 7:26 p.m.
Emergency response records from Raleigh County, however, indicate that the mine asked for helicopter service at 4:44 p.m. to transport three potential survivors who "are now at the surface."
Throughout the evening, the reports varied about how many miners had died and, more importantly, how many might still be trapped underground waiting for rescuers.
At about 5:14 p.m., a state Homeland Security dispatcher called Massey officials to try to get details about possible injuries.
"I've heard anywhere from 200 men underground," the dispatcher told Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater. "I've had 50 people injured. I've had 20 people dead on the scene."
Gillenwater referred the dispatcher to a Massey press release, issued at 4:57 p.m., that said "information about injuries is uncertain at this time."
The dispatcher responded, "When you get something, my director is all over my backside wanting information."
Massey's first public confirmation of any deaths came shortly after 8 p.m., in a press release that reported seven miners had died and 19 were "unaccounted for" at the mine.
But as early as 5:02 p.m., a Performance Coal official had told the Raleigh County 911 office that the company had counted at least 28 miners missing.
At 10 minutes after midnight, Labor Department officials issued their own news release, announcing that 12 workers had died, two were hospitalized and 17 unaccounted for.
That release appears to be the first count that contained the right figure -- 31 -- for how many miners had been either killed, injured or were still missing.
But in an interview with investigators, MSHA's Bob Hardman said that at 12:22 a.m. -- 12 minutes after that news release -- agency officials were still trying to get an accurate count.
An hour and 20 minutes later, Massey issued a statement to announce 25 miners had died and four more were still unaccounted for. Four days later, those four were found, also dead.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.