CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Massey Energy fireboss who warned of a buildup of explosive coal dust shortly before the company's Upper Big Branch Mine blew up also complained of a strange burning sensation in his eyes and said he couldn't see, state and federal investigators have been told.
About a half-hour before he and 28 other miners were killed in the explosion that rocked the Raleigh County mine, Michael Elswick phoned a safety report to co-worker Scott Halstead on the surface.
Jami Cash, Elswick's daughter, said Halstead told her family that Elswick said his eyes were burning and he couldn't see.
"That's when Scott Halstead said he was on his way in to get him," Cash said in an interview with the Gazette. "Scott made it to the mouth of the mine and it blew. He didn't get a chance to go in."
Cash said Halstead recounted for her his last conversation with her father, a story she says he also told Upper Big Branch investigators. Through his lawyer, Halstead has so far declined media interview requests, but did answer questions from government investigators.
"He was the voice dad couldn't be," Cash said of Halstead. "I'd like to thank him, if I could ... He's been having a rough time since all of this happened."
That final safety check at Upper Big Branch was in the news earlier this week, when The Associated Press first reported that mine records showed Elswick warned that conveyor belts in the mine needed to be cleaned and treated with powdered limestone, or "rock dust," to control the buildup of explosive coal dust.
The final safety report from Elswick and Halstead came at 2:30 p.m., a little more than 30 minutes before the deadly explosion is believed to have occurred.
In that report, the two men noted that 10 of the mine's conveyor belts either needed to be cleaned of excess coal dust or treated to avoid a buildup of the dust. The next page in the mine's logbook, where notations about hazards being corrected would be entered, is blank.