The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Montcoal Mine Disaster

April 5, 2011

Tragedy in the Coalfields

Remembering the Upper Big Branch mine disaster one year later

On April 5, 2010, a massive explosion rocked Massy Energy subsidiary Performance Coal Company’s Upper Big Branch mine at Montcoal.

Twenty-nine miners died, and two were injured in the blast.

Here is a timeline of events (times are approximate):

Day 1 - Monday, April 5, 2010

- Shortly after 3 p.m.: Carbon monoxide alarms in the mine go off. This is likely the time of the explosion.

- The explosion occurs at or around a shift change. Sixty-one miners were in the mine at the time. Miner Steve Smith, who hears the explosion but escapes, said, “Before you knew it, it was just like your ears stopped up. You couldn’t hear. And the next thing you know, it’s just like you’re just right in the middle of a tornado.”

- Some miners leaving the mine feel a rush of air and return to investigate. They find nine miners who were headed out of the mine. Two of the nine are injured and helped to safety.

-  The miners try to find others but are stopped by high levels of carbon monoxide.

3:27 p.m.: The company notifies the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the West Virginia Department of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training of the explosion.

- More than 20 mine emergency rescue teams respond.

Around 5:30 p.m.:  First rescue teams enter the mine.  Extensive damage from the explosion makes progress difficult.  Rescuers are only able to note the locations of deceased miners, not identify them, moving on in hopes of finding someone alive. There has been no radio communication from the miners.

- Officials say there are underground refuge chambers designed to sustain life for 96 hours, should any survivors make it to one.

- One of the injured miners is transported to Raleigh General Hospital, and a second is airlifted to Charleston Area Medical Center.

- Kevin Stricklin, an administrator for MSHA, says the teams’ mission is rescue, not recovery, with teams changing every two hours.

- Family members are taken to the old Pettus Elementary School near the mine site, where they are kept abreast of the situation.

8:10 p.m.: Massey Energy Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship issues a statement confirming seven miners dead, two injured and 19 unaccounted for.

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