It was a bright, sunshiny spring day on April 5, 2010, in Raleigh County. The day after Easter, many were returning to work after holiday celebrations.
In Montcoal, those working on the dayshift at Performance Coal Company’s Upper Big Branch mine were into their normal routine — working a coal seam deep inside a southern West Virginia mountain that crossed under the county line stretching into neighboring Boone County.
And as that group of hard-working men were in various stages of exiting the UBB South mine something went terribly wrong.
Described by one survivor as being “like a hurricane,” a fire triggered a massive blast, fed by high levels of methane, that ripped through the mine’s shaft claiming 29 lives and injuring two others in the worst mining disaster in the United States since the 1970s.
In the days, weeks, months and now years that have followed, many of the families and friends left behind by those brave souls are still seeking justice from the tragedy that federal and state officials have surmised could have been avoided if safety measures, and enforcement protocol, had been properly followed.
Federal prosecutors in southern West Virginia are continuing their probe into the UBB matter and the now-defunct Massey Energy Corporation which was the parent company of Performance Coal.
Three former Massey employees have either pleaded to or been found guilty of, crimes in connection with how the company circumvented the law, including Gary May, a former mine foreman at UBB.
Sworn statements in court from former Massey executive David Hughart have pointed the finger directly at the way corporate policy from Massey’s highest ranking officials, including CEO Don Blankenship, flew directly in the face of safety laws.
As prosecutors continue their work, it may still be years before all is said and done in connection with the criminal conduct that led to the UBB disaster.
It is our hope, as more days go by for the many still experiencing the heartbreak, the final outcome will be that all of those responsible are identified, prosecuted and do jail time for their careless actions.
In the same breath, we also implore federal and state mine agencies, and our elected leaders continue the push for making mines as safe as possible through laws and proper enforcement actions.
We never again want to experience the hurt and loss that came to southern West Virginia three years ago today.