Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top Story: WV Reportedly Finds Sago Cause Was Lightning

The AP talked to the UMWA and others who had an inside track, according to this story:

Associated Press Writer
FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) -- State investigators have determined that a lightning strike sparked the methane gas explosion deep inside the Sago Mine, where 12 coal miners died in January, a union official said.

Lightning had been suspected from the beginning, and a nearly yearlong state investigation ruled out other potential causes for the explosion, said Dennis O'Dell, the labor union's health and safety coordinator....

This has scooped those of us who are awaiting the report's official release on Monday. I hope the early released information is not a surprise to the families.

Special note: today marks the 14th anniversary of the Southmountain mine explosion, in which 8 were killed, near Norton, Va., December 7, 1992. This milestone hits with a pang every year. I was one of the MSHA crew that spent 6 days at the mine during the attempted rescue. Mike Abbott, of the Va. DMME, and I drove up and down a mountain several times a day between the command center (an old trailer with balky heating)and the foot of the mine road, where families and friends of the missing miners waited in tents and busses supplied by the Red Cross, in bitter cold and often in snow, for word on the rescue effort's progress. There, with other officials and engineers when possible, we'd brief the families and then the media who waited with them, standing in the mud beside the railroad tracks. As hope faded, so did the media interest; while rescue teams were still searching, amid setbacks from hazardous gases, the U.S. entered Somalia, pushing the mine accident off the front page; and in the end, there were the eight fatalities, and the heartbreak for their families, and a fresh grief for each of us to carry home that Christmas season. It was a baptism of sorts into the true and very personal meaning of our mine safety mission. Afterwards, there were investigations, ending in both fines and jail sentences for those responsible, and a fund was established with those fines for the education of the children who lost their fathers; no true recompense, but some measure of justice. You could write a book about it all.
But the emotions always come back at this time of year, when bare twigs blur the tree-covered hillsides, almost like smoke, bringing back that thin smoke rising from the mine mouth, and the winter is setting in. The winter is the time when most of the explosions happen.

I pray that underground coal miners everywhere are closely watching their four basic lines of defense against similar explosions: following the ventilation plan; careful preshift and onshift exams; control of ignition sources -- and definitely, no smoking; and finally, thorough rock dusting. May everyone come safely through this hazardous winter period and may the holidays be good days for all.


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