"I said, 'Well, yeah. We need to get that fixed.' He said, 'Well, I'll look into it.'" Jeter said. "So they had a write-up for it, all the parts and everything, but it never left the mines."
Rock-dusting is the industry term for spreading large amounts of crushed limestone on mine floors, walls and other surfaces. For more than a century, it's been understood that proper rock dusting in underground mines can prevent coal-dust explosions.
McAteer's report explains, "Mines the size of Upper Big Branch typically use track-mounted tank or pod dusters -- like the one Jeter operated -- to rock dust the track haulage, belt lines, airways, working sections and construction sites.
"Efficient use of a track duster in a mine the size of Upper Big Branch would have required drilling a borehole midway in the mine and not far from the working sections," the report said. "This would have allowed a speedy delivery of bulk rock dust to refill the tank dusters."
Upper Big Branch had no such borehole. The mine had just one crew assigned to rock-dusting duties. And the equipment they had never seemed to work properly.
"Sometimes it would clog up, so we would have to spend 30 minutes trying to unclog the hoses to get dusted," Jeter said, describing the orange rock-dusting machine. "Then it would clog up again."
Records uncovered by investigators indicated the orange duster was at least 25 years old, and had not been reconditioned for at lest seven years.
After the explosion, when Massey employees tried to start up the duster for MSHA-required tests, the motor burned up.
Investigators found another duster parked in the mine shop. It was tagged "out of service," and had been stripped down to its frame for parts.
Federal and state investigators have argued for nearly a year that it was clear to them that coal-dust played a major role in the explosion. Massey disputes this view.
McAteer's report provides new evidence to support the coal-dust theory, including testimony from numerous miners who complained about inadequate rock-dusting.
The McAteer team also analyzed dozens of safety examination reports completed by Massey's own employees.
Between January and March 2010, those reports show, Massey miners identified 1,834 instances were parts of the mine needed to be rock-dusted. The work was completed in only 302 of those instances, or about 16 percent of the time.
"If their coal production was as bad as their rock dusting, they would be out of business," McAteer said last week.
'Kicked in the teeth'
A month after the disaster, Massey CEO Don Blankenship told a congressional committee that Massey was a safe company.
"Massey does not place profits over safety," Blankenship testified. "We never have and we never will."
The McAteer report disagrees.
"The company is acknowledged for the number of jobs it provides and for such contributions as bringing doctors to coalfield communities; providing financial assistance to coalfield schools and scholarships for students; supporting volunteer fire departments and sports events; and staging an annual Christmas gift-giving program for needy children," the report says.
"But Massey is equally well known for causing incalculable damage to mountains, streams and air in the coalfields, creating health risks for coalfield residents by polluting streams, injecting slurry into the ground and for failing to control coal waste dams and dust emissions from processing plants; using vast amounts of money to influence the political system; and battling government regulation regarding safety in the coal mines and environmental safeguards for communities."
The McAteer team quotes numerous Massey miners who criticize the company's safety program, called, "S-1" for "Safety is Job 1."
"That's just slogans," testified Denver Lambert, a miner with 34 years experience who worked at Upper Big Branch since 2001.
Purchasing agent Gregory Clay told investigators he was familiar with the terms "S-1" and "P-2."
"Safety first, production second," Clay said. "It should be the other way around. They want production."
Michael Ferrell, who worked at Upper Big Branch for 13 years until he left in February 2010, told investigators those who "tried to do the right thing" in terms of safety were "usually the people that [got] kicked in the teeth for it."
McAteer's report concluded, "There is an obvious disconnect between the lofty standards extolled by Blankenship and the reality of conditions inspectors and investigators found in the Upper Big Branch Mine.
"Requiring reflective clothing, metatarsal boots and seat belts are good practices," the report says. "But they do not address the basics of mine safety -- proper ventilation, adequate rock-dusting, well-maintained equipment, and fire suppression.
"In those basic areas of worker safety, Massey Energy has fallen woefully short."
'What the hell have they done now?'
By early afternoon on April 5, 2010, Jason Stanley and David Farley had managed to get four of the six water pumps up and running. They didn't have the clamps or couplings to fix the other two.
It was nearly 2 p.m., about time for them to begin the long trek back out of the mine at the end of their shift.
They went looking for their boss, foreman Jeremy Burghduff. They found him lying down on the job -- literally.
"Whenever we went through the mandoor ... he kind of bounced up," Farley recalled.
Farley told investigators Burghduff didn't perform his required safety examinations that day. And investigators found that, during 25 shifts between September 2009 and April 2010, Burghduff's methane detector wasn't turned on when he was supposedly checking for hazardous conditions.
Across the mine on April 5, other workers were noticing changes in the flow of air underground.
Mike Kiblinger, a construction foreman, had a crew underground the previous Thursday to cut a new channel for a conveyor belt. He noticed dust from their work was blowing out of the mine.
That Monday, though, Kiblinger felt the air going the opposite direction. He thought someone must have made a major ventilation change over the weekend.
"I mean, it'd pick up and it would die, then pick up and die," said Scott Halstead, describing air fluctuations at the longwall face that afternoon.
Roof bolter Joshua Williams also noticed the air reversal. He told foreman Bobby Baker about it.
"He didn't say nothing," Williams recalled. "He just walked away."
When his shift was ending at about 2:45 p.m., Williams said the dust was light, and the air "foggy looking." When the crew left the mine, the air was still going the wrong way.
In the longwall section, the miners had been having a frustrating shift. The longwall machine had been down several times, and the crew spent much of their time scrambling to fix mechanical problems.
At about 2:42 p.m., operator Rex Mullins called out to the surface, reporting that coal production had resumed.
Shortly before 3 p.m., workers on the longwall manually engaged a two-part shut-off system, powering down their equipment. Later, bodies of four of the miners who died were found about two-thirds of the way down the longwall face from their normal work positions. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but the McAteer report concludes, "These men must have seen something ominous and out of the ordinary" -- perhaps the fireball of the initial methane ignition.
Day-shift crews were busy trying to make their way out of the mine, and home to their families.
At about 3 p.m., dispatcher Adams Jenkins got a call from James Woods from the Tailgate 22 crew. Woods was driving a mantrip and asked Jenkins to confirm he had a clear road to the surface.
A couple of minutes later, "that's when it happened," Jenkins told investigators.
"All the dust started, just a white smoke pouring out of the portals, and it sounded like thunder," he said. "It was constant, and I didn't know what happened. And [mine superintendent] Gary May, he said, 'Oh, Lord ... something bad's happened.'"
Greg Clay, a purchasing agent and sometimes dispatcher, jumped from his chair and looked out the window. He could see rock and debris blowing out of the mine portal and said, "it just sounded like jet engines."
Mine superintendent Everett Hager was overheard saying, "What the hell have they done now?"
Joshua Williams, a younger miner who was on a mantrip exiting Upper Big Branch, described the moment as "when the world came to an end."
Brent Racer, a shuttle car operator, stopped at a mine phone, listening for some answer from the mine inside.
"It's like dead silence," Racer recalled. "No one was answering."
In Monday's Charleston Gazette: The rescue effort.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.