Friday, November 03, 2006

More Aracoma Details

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette has a comprehensive story this morning. Some highlights:

It’s not surprising that this happened, given the conditions in this mine,” said Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky mine safety expert who reviewed the state’s Aracoma report. “It was basically a recipe for disaster.”

On top of the seven contributory citations issued to the company, sixteen individual Aracoma employees — mostly salaried mine managers — were also cited personally for “knowingly” violating a variety of safety rules. The violations included not performing required safety checks and removing air-flow control walls. State officials recommended that they be stripped of their mining licenses.
"Knowing and willful" is the key phrase for potential federal criminal charges. Reportedly the U.S. Attorney's ofice has already been already inquiring into that for some time.

Gov. Joe Manchin added that state inspections prior to the fire “did not fully and accurately capture the safety conditions present at this particular mine.”
It was not immediately clear if Manchin was referring to the fact that state inspectors did not perform required annual electrical inspections at Aracoma in 2004 and 2005, or to other oversights not previously made public by the state.

Some questions there for MSHA, too.

"They were on the wrong side of the chimney,” said Tim Bailey, a Charleston lawyer who represents miners in safety cases. “It sucked that smoky air right up to where these men were.”

This is so reminiscent of the 1984 Wilberg mine fire, where 27 died -- only in that case, the smoke got to the miners because a ventilation control called an "overcast" burned through.

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we get some more details, for instance:

When the fire erupted, miners used handheld fire extinguishers, and discovered that fire hose couplings did not match the water line fixtures, which turned out to have no water anyway.

Bryan Cabell, a mine belt examiner, told investigators he used up two or three handheld extinguishers, then attempted to attach a fire hose to a valve, but discovered the unmatched fittings.

"There was a fire hose lying beside a hard water line by the storage unit. I proceeded to hook it up. I could not get it to hook up onto the fire tap," Mr. Cabell testified. He just threw the fire hose down and opened the valve, "hoping I could direct it towards the fire, but there was no water in it."

A co-worker tried to locate a cutoff valve where the water supply apparently had been shut off, but was driven back by heavy smoke.

"The fire was burning out of control and no means was available to fight the fire," the report states.

Side note to readers: If something important is missing from this blog, please don't assume it's deliberate. The same goes for highlighting one outlet's version of a story or another. I'm trying to be a bit helpful and interesting, but sometimes can't keep up with what's out there, and can't realistically promise to be authoritative.

If something's really wrong or offensive, please holler at me: ncwaort5 (at) hotmail (dot) com.


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