Earlier Monday, Main had downplayed any concerns raised by his own agency's mine rescue team members, saying past mine rescues have shown that "confusion is not uncommon, and information is not always effectively communicated as rescuers search for survivors in a race against time and in a life-threatening atmosphere.
"This rescue operation was no different," Main said.
Main also defended his agency's refusal to release certain documents, including other witness transcripts, concerning the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.
"The Mine Act requires that MSHA conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident," Main said. "It does not require us to publicly release information such as witness interview transcripts."
However, the Mine Act does state that "All records, information, reports, findings, citations, notices, orders, or decisions required or issued pursuant to or under this Act ... shall be made available for public inspection."
MSHA has released interview transcripts for 25 mine rescue team members from the agency, Massey Energy and the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training. But MSHA did not make public transcripts of interviews with top agency officials who directed the rescue effort, including Hardman and MSHA coal administrator Kevin Stricklin.
In the days after the explosion, a staffer for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd warned MSHA that families of mine rescue team members were concerned about the rescuers' safety and urged the agency to make information about the rescue teams available to those families and the public.
Charmaine Manansala, a Labor Department staffer, responded that "The rescue teams are the company's responsibility so only they have that information that you're looking for," according to email records obtained by the Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act. "As soon as the company makes the info public, MSHA will post it on the website."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.