Davitt McAteer, who is conducting an independent investigation of the mine disaster, said evidence uncovered so far by his team supports the lawsuit's version that all nine miners on the mantrip were alive after the explosion. McAteer declined to provide more details until the information is provided to the families when his team's report is finalized.
A Wall Street Journal report published on April 12, 2010, made a brief reference to one Upper Big Branch miner trying to put emergency breathing devices on co-workers who had survived the blast.
However, federal and state mine-rescue coordinators, along with elected officials, had told families and the media that the explosion was so powerful that all the miners died instantly.
Then-Gov. Joe Manchin, for example, informed the news media that he had told the miners' families, "that the rescue workers told us that they can assure us no one suffered, because it was so instantaneous because of the power of this."
Stricklin suggested that was a misunderstanding. Officials making such comments were referring to the last four victims, who were found after a weeklong search, not to the 25 miners who were found dead the night of the blast, Stricklin said.
The explosion occurred shortly after 3 p.m., about the normal time for a shift change at the Raleigh County mine.
Investigators believe the blast involved a methane ignition that was made far worse by a buildup underground of highly explosive coal dust. The explosion is the subject of numerous investigations, including a broad-ranging federal criminal inquiry.
After the explosion, but before formal rescue teams arrived, Massey officials Chris Blanchard and Jason Whitehead took a team of workers underground to search for survivors.
In their new lawsuit, lawyers for the Lynch family have named Blanchard and Whitehead as defendants. The lawsuit alleges that the two men found Lynch's mantrip, but "refused to make any effort to render aid, choosing instead to continue deeper into the mine where it is believed that they traveled near the longwall face for reasons that remain unknown."
Massey general counsel Shane Harvey said those allegations are "completely untrue." Massey has said that Blanchard, Whitehead and the crew working with them helped Blake and Woods out of the mine. Blanchard and Whitehead also assisted the other men from the mantrip, assigned workers to get them out of the mine, and then continued on underground to look for other survivors, the company has said.
McAteer said his investigation has not found any evidence to support the lawsuit's allegations against Blanchard and Whitehead.
Stricklin noted that federal investigators have not interviewed Blanchard or Whitehead. Both men asserted their Fifth Amendment rights and declined to answer questions about the disaster.
However, Stricklin said: "We don't think that they just walked by or kept going without trying to provide any assistance."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.