The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

May 1, 2006

Lawmakers prepare to solve Sago riddle

Sen. Shirley Love spent part of Monday going over a list of questions he expects to ask when a special legislative panel tries to solve the riddle of the Sago mine disaster.

Thirteen coal miners were trapped and all but one died after an explosion rocked the Upshur County installation last Jan. 2.

“I’m penciling out some questions now,” Love, D-Fayette, said, as he prepared to join five other lawmakers named to the panel by House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, and Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan.

“Mine safety in West Virginia has been accomplished through a series of regulations. I want to know why did all the rules and regulations fail those miners at Sago.”

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, intends to play it by ear when the hearings open today, rather than arrive with a list of questions.

“I’m working on some things now, but I don’t know where we’re going with it,” he said of the hearing.

“A lot hinges on the testimony that I hear, or if I think some things are left out. I want to see how the testimony goes and ask my questions accordingly.”

Love intends to field a number of questions, based on apparent breakdowns in equipment, including lone survivor Randal McCloy Jr.’s recent letter to families of other miners, detailing how at least four air supply devices malfunctioned as the trapped men desperately tried to use a sledgehammer to get the attention of a rescue team.

“Were these things tested daily, or just taken for granted?” he wondered. “Some of them didn’t work. These are the questions we need to ask. The families need to know.”

The senator alluded to another report indicating a methane alarm sounded the morning of Jan. 2 on a computer at the Sago mine, but, contrary to mine policy and federal rules, the work section wasn’t evacuated.

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