CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal mine safety regulators on Monday refused to answer any questions about complaints from their own rescue team members that lives were unnecessarily put at risk during the effort to find possible survivors at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine last April.
Joe Main, assistant labor secretary for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, issued a short statement that cited his agency's ongoing investigation in refusing to give interviews or answer written questions about the matter.
"A number of questions pertaining to specific aspects of the rescue and recovery are difficult to answer at this time, primarily because we are still in the midst of an ongoing accident investigation, as is the internal review team," Main said in a prepared statement.
On Friday, just before the Mother's Day weekend, MSHA made available to families of the 29 miners who died at Upper Big Branch hundreds of pages of transcripts of interviews with mine rescue team members who worked underground after the April 5, 2010, explosion.
Copies of the transcripts were not officially released to the public and the media until Monday morning, but details of the documents were published Friday evening by the Gazette, based on transcripts obtained by the newspaper.
Several MSHA rescue team members told state and federal investigators that they were concerned in the hours after the explosion that Massey Energy was directing them to continue underground without having required backup teams available. The top MSHA official directing the rescue effort, Robert Hardman, overruled his agency's rescuers, siding with the plan pushed by Massey executive Chris Adkins, the transcripts show.
"They could've ... they could've killed every one of us," said Jerry Cook, one of the top MSHA mine rescue team members. "At that time, we were expendable that night, that's my opinion. They didn't care what they did with us."
MSHA rescuers were also concerned later during the weeklong Upper Big Branch incident, when they were being pushed to make a run deep into the mine to inspect refuge chambers, despite rescuers' belief that none of the miners could have survived and made to those shelters.