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District 6



NO. 1 MINE, ID NO. 15-17227


Willie A. Sowards
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector/Electrical


Buster Steward
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector/Roof Control

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
100 Ratliff Creek Road, Pikeville, Kentucky 41501
Carl E. Boone, II, District Manager


The E & B Coal Co., Inc., No. 1 mine, is located approximately two miles off State Route 122 on Simpson's Branch in Floyd County, Kentucky. The principal officers are: Eurmel Hunter, President; Shelly Newemaker, Vice President; and Barbara Hunter, Secretary/Treasurer. Danny Mead, Superintendent, is in charge of health and safety at the mine.

The mine is developed into the No. 1 Elkhorn Coalbed by four drift openings and utilizes an exhausting ventilation system. The active 001-0 MMU ( mechanized mining unit ) is located approximately 10,000 feet inby the mine portals.

The mine normally operates 5 days a week producing approximately 600 tons daily, utilizing one production and one maintenance shift. The average coal height is 30 inches. The mine employs 31 people, 28 underground and 3 surface. The mine has one producing MMU using a cutting machine, coal drill, scoops, and roof drills. Coal is transported from the section dumping point to the surface via 5 belt conveyors. From that point, the coal is transported by trucks to a processing facility.

A health and safety inspection was in progress at the time of the accident. The previous MSHA health and safety inspection was completed December 1, 1995.


On the day of the accident, the day-shift crew entered the mine at 6:00 a.m. Work proceeded normally under the supervision of Danny Mead, Superintendent, until the No. 4 conveyor belt broke at approximately 10:00 a.m. The conveyor belt was repaired and production continued until approximately 1:00 p.m., when the belts stopped again. An examination was made by Jerry Hill, beltman, to determine the reason the belts had stopped. Hill discovered that the No. 2 conveyor belt had pulled apart at the No. 2 belt drive, near a splice. The end of the top portion of the belt was approximately 25 feet inby the belt drive. The bottom portion of the belt was still threaded through the belt drive with the end of the belt extending approximately 2 feet past the outby power roller. He then called Danny Mead by mine phone to report this condition.

Mead instructed Mike Hancock, coal-drill operator, to get the rubber-tired personnel carrier and bring all available section employees to the No. 2 belt drive to assist in the repair. Hill left the No. 2 belt drive to get the belt-splicing tools that were stored at the No. 3 belt drive. Mead, who was en route to the No. 2 belt drive, met Hill and informed him that he had the belt-splicing tools. Mead instructed Hill to follow him back to the No. 2 belt drive.

Upon arrival at the No. 2 belt drive, Mead instructed Hill to de-energize the belt-starter box. Hill tripped the circuit breaker at the belt transformer located 1 crosscut to the left of the No. 2 belt drive. Mead then changed 2 of the conductors in the starter box to reverse the rotation of the belt drive motor, so that enough slack could be retreived from the bottom belt to extend it over the front (discharge) roller. According to testimony, this would allow belt clamps to be used on the belt to pull it back together.

When the section crew arrived at the No. 2 belt drive, Mead instructed Mike Hancock to go to the belt transformer and wait for instructions to reset the circuit breaker. After receiving confirmation from Mead, Hancock energized the circuit breaker. Mead gave instructions relative to gaining enough slack in the belt to make a splice.

The men were to apply tension to the belt so that the power rollers would pull enough belt through the drive to allow a splice to be made. Hill positioned himself in front of the power rollers and attempted to keep the belt tight against the rollers by pulling the belt in the outby direction. Mead went to the belt starter box, located approximately 11 feet from the belt drive, and positioned himself so that he could observe activities at the drive.

Mead used the manual switch located on the belt starter box to energize the head drive motor. Udell Watson, roof bolter operator (victim), and Richard Mullins, roof bolter operator, were attempting to keep the belt snug against the rotating rollers by applying pressure directly to the belt with their hands. When the motor was energized, slippage in the No. 2 belt resulted in the slippage switch opening the motor circuit after approximately 12 to 15 seconds. Approximately two feet of slack in the belt had been gained but it slipped back into the belt drive when the tension was lost. The motor was energized for the second time and the power rollers began to rotate with Watson's hands in contact with the belt. At that time, Watson either lost his balance or his hand(s) became caught in the belt. As a result, Watson became entangled in the belt and was pulled into the space between the rotating power rollers.

Because some of the employees were visibly shaken as a result of witnessing the accident, Mead instructed Hancock to transport them to the surface. Mead and Jeff Blackburn, beltman, remained at the scene. Mead cut the conveyor belt behind the head drive, behind the outby power roller, and in front of the outby power roller in an attempt to remove the victim. When Mead and Blackburn realized the victim could not be recovered without assistance, they traveled to the surface area of the mine and reported the accident to Kentucky Department of Mines & Minerals (KDMM) and Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA).

The MSHA field office at Martin, Kentucky, was notified at approximately 2:05 p.m. MSHA personnel arrived at the mine and met with KDMM officials at approximately 3:00 p.m. With the assistance of MSHA and KDMM officials, the No.2 belt drive was disassembled and the victim recovered at approximately 4:30 p.m. The victim was transported to the surface where he was pronounced dead by Roger Nelson, Floyd County Coroner.


This investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence of the accident:
  1. The accident occurred approximately 2,000 feet underground at the No. 2 belt drive unit.

  2. The No. 2 belt conveyor was a 36-inch wide rubberized multi- ply belting installed on cable and stand-mounted rollers which extended for a distance of 2100 feet. The belt conveyor contained approximately 1400 feet of coal on it at the time the belt broke. The conveyor belt had broken in the No. 2 belt-drive unit at approximately 1:00 p.m. on the date of the accident.

  3. There were six eyewitnesses to the accident: Danny Mead, superintendent; Jason Rose, beltman; Greg McCary, laborer; Jerry Hill, beltman; Richard Mullins, roof bolter operator; and Ben Perry, shot-firer.

  4. In addition to his role as mine superintendent, Danny Mead also served as section foreman, electrician, and belt examiner.

  5. The No. 2 belt drive was a Long Airdox tandem drive, Model T- 17L, powered by a 100 HP, 480 volt, 3-phase motor. The unit was designed for a belt speed of approximately 500 linear feet per minute.

  6. The belt drive was controlled by an Esco, 100 HP, 480 volt, solid state belt starter. The belt starter box was located approximately 12 feet from the No. 2 belt drive.

  7. Mead stated he gave instructions relative to gaining enough slack in the belt to make a splice. The men were to apply tension to the belt so that the power rollers would pull enough belt through the drive to allow a splice to be made.

  8. The power rollers of the No. 2 belt drive were in direct line-of-site from the control switch on the starter box.

  9. The guard for the right side of the tandem power rollers was pulled away from the rollers at the time of the accident.

  10. The electric motor was operated in the reverse direction while pressure was applied by hand to the belt to keep it tight against the rotating power rollers.

  11. According to testimony, the victim and Richard Mullins were applying pressure to the bottom belt to hold it tight against the power roller. Jerry Hill was in front of the No. 2 belt drive, pulling on the end of the broken belting. The No. 1 belt conveyor was running while the No. 2 belt drive was being energized. Richard Mullins stated that he was located on the opposite side of the belt drive from the other men when the unit was energized. He stated that during the first attempt to apply hand pressure against the belt, he came close to getting his hand caught in a metal splice in the moving belt. Mullins also stated that this close call scared him, so he did not place his hands on the belt when the belt drive was energized on the second attempt.


The accident occurred because employees, under the direct supervision of the mine superintendent, used a dangerous procedure to thread conveyor belt through the No. 2 belt drive. Employees used their hands to force the conveyor belt against the rotating drive rollers, in order to aid in the belt threading activities. As a result of these actions, the victim received fatal crushing injuries when he was drawn between the rotating power rollers.


  1. A 103(k) Order of Withdrawal, Number 4591401, was issued on March 1, 1996, in conjunction with the fatal accident investigation.

  2. A 104(d)(1) Citation, Number 4235724, was issued for a violation of Title 30 CFR 75.1728 (a) because persons were allowed to place their hands in contact with the moving belt and rotating drive rollers of the No. 2 belt conveyor drive unit while threading of the belt through the energized drive unit was in progress.


Willie A. Sowards
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector, Electrical

Buster Steward
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector, Roof Control


Carl E. Boone, II
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB96C07