The company itself was next to go.
On Jan. 29, Massey's board accepted a $7.1 billion takeover offer from rival Alpha Natural Resources.
Alpha plans to replace Massey's safety culture altogether.
"If you scour the world, you'll see that the most productive mines are the safest mines,'' Alpha Chief Executive Kevin Crutchfield told The Associated Press.
Almost every major U.S. coal mining disaster over the past four decades has prompted new safety laws. As Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has said on several occasions, safety laws are written in the blood of coal miners.
A year after 78 died in a 1968 explosion in Farmington, the nation responded with a landmark mine safety law that mandated regular government inspections and increased federal enforcement powers.
When 26 miners died eight years later in twin explosions at the Scotia mine in Kentucky, Congress responded with a second sweeping law that created the Mine Safety and Health Administration, among other things.
Congress created what's known as the MINER Act after a series of disasters in 2006, including the explosion of International Coal Group's Sago mine in West Virginia, where 12 men died. The law required better communications and safety equipment designed to keep trapped miners alive after a disaster.
Upper Big Branch didn't follow the pattern.
Mining legislation stalled in Congress and was never seriously contemplated in West Virginia. Regulators stiffened some rules, particularly one requiring mines to do more to prevent coal dust explosions.
National Mining Association President Hal Quinn argues the changes were "mainly punitive measures.''
The industry's main lobbying group argues more laws won't solve the problems. Companies should do that through better training, coordination and the sharing of ideas, Quinn said.
Operators, who face increased scrutiny and more frequent inspections, are complaining of lower production and higher costs.
"What MSHA has done is to be expected,'' Quinn said. "What we need to do is look ahead and say, how do we get on a continued path of excellence?''
MSHA, however, is proud of its tougher new approach.
It's found more than 4,600 violations during its impact inspections at more than 200 mines across the country.
"I believe that we are making progress here,'' said agency director Joe Main. "... The flaw in our system is when MSHA's not there, how do you enforce the law?''
He's asked Congress last week to give him more powerful tools to make it easier to idle problem mines, impose tougher criminal penalties and protect whistleblowers. In the meantime, Main does what works.
Instead of sending one or two inspectors to a mine during daytime hours, MSHA now sends groups of them in the evening. They often seize control of a mine's communication system, making it impossible to warn crews underground that inspectors are on the way.
On the night of Sept. 28, inspectors took over communications at Massey's Seng Creek Powellton mine in southern West Virginia.
Underground, they caught a crew illegally cutting too deeply into the coal seam. A foreman also admitted skipping mandatory tests for explosive gases, and inspectors caught Massey cutting coal with ventilation curtains rolled up and left out of the way.
Those curtains help flush away highly explosive methane and coal dust, the very ingredients that MSHA believes caused the blast at Upper Big Branch.
"You never know,'' Main said, "what would happen if we hadn't went into that mine that night.''