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District 2

(Underground Coal Mine)


Maple Creek (ID 36-00970)
Maple Creek Mining, Inc.
Bentleyville, Washington County, Pennsylvania

October 26, 1996


Thomas E. McCort
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector


Kenneth A. Murray
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
New Stanton District Office
RR 1, Box 736, Hunker, Pennsylvania 15639
Joseph J. Garcia, District Manager


On Saturday, October 26, 1996, at 5:20 p.m., a fatal powered haulage accident occurred at the bottom of the Hazel Kirk track slope of Maple Creek Mine. The victim and a co-worker were in the process of transporting a longwall equipment sled along the Hazel Kirk track haulage to the 2 East longwall set-up area. The corners of the sled were secured to two supply cars. During transport, the longwall equipment sled shifted on the supply cars and the inby left corner contacted a concrete block rib retaining wall. The longwall equipment sled was then forced off the supply cars and over top of the trail locomotive. The victim, who was operating the 20 ton trail locomotive, struck the sled as the locomotive passed underneath. The victim was transported by ambulance to the Monongahela Valley Hospital, Monongahela, Pennsylvania, where he was pronounced dead as a result of blunt force trauma to the abdomen.


The Maple Creek Mine, operated by Maple Creek Mining, Inc., is located along Pennsylvania State Route 917, approximately four miles north of Interstate Route 70. The mine is opened by two shafts, one slope, and one drift into the Pittsburgh coal bed, which averages 84 inches in thickness. Employment is provided for 395 persons, 263 of whom work underground on three production shifts per day, six days per week. Maintenance and support work are performed on the seventh day, on all three shifts.

Two continuous mining sections and one longwall section produce an average of 13,000 tons of raw coal daily. Coal is transported from the face areas to the section loading point by a chain conveyor on the longwall section and by shuttle cars on the continuous miner sections. Coal is then discharged onto a series of belt conveyors and transported to the surface where it is either dumped into a 7,200 ton blending bin or a 100,000 ton storage pile. Raw coal is transferred to the preparation plant for processing from either of these locations. Clean coal is loaded into barges and/or railroad cars to be delivered to customers.

The principal officers of the operations are as follows:
Robert E. Murray.........................President
Maynard St. John.........................Manager of Operations
Roy Heidelbach............................Mine Superintendent

The last Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regular Safety and Health Inspection at this mine was completed September 30, 1996.


On Saturday, October 26, 1996, at about 10:15 a.m., Dan Check, supply yard foreman, directed Bernie Franczyk, mobile equipment operator, to load a longwall equipment sled onto two flat supply cars at the Hazel Kirk supply yard. After loading the sled, Franczyk returned to other duties and Check secured the four corners of the sled to the two supply cars using chains and bolts. Prior to moving the loaded sled, Check and Franczyk measured the position of the sled on the cars to ensure that adequate clearance could be maintained while transporting the sled to the Hazel Kirk 2 East longwall set-up area. Franczyk then moved the supply cars to the main supply track in the Hazel Kirk supply yard where they would remain until the afternoon shift.

The afternoon shift, (4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.), was scheduled to be nonproducing. Various maintenance and mining support activities were planned for this shift including the transportation of the sled from the Hazel Kirk supply yard to the Hazel Kirk 2 East area. The transportation of the sled was coordinated through Robert Keslar, shift foreman; Bill Detrick, longwall foreman; Bill Grey, support foreman and Check. There were no classified motormen scheduled to work this shift; Grey assigned the job of moving the supply trip to two general inside laborers, Robert Puskar and Robert Thomas. Both men had previous experience as motormen and were familiar with the duties to be performed.

Shortly before the start of the afternoon shift, Grey instructed Puskar and Thomas to enter the mine at the Spinner Portal and take the No. 54 locomotive (20 ton) to the Hazel Kirk supply yard. They were then to transport a supply trip consisting of two cars of ballast and the two supply cars carrying the sled, using the No. 54 and the No. 90 ton locomotives (20 ton), from the supply yard to the Hazel Kirk 2 East longwall set-up area. After receiving the work instructions, Puskar and Thomas entered the mine at the Spinner Portal at approximately 4:00 p.m. They boarded No. 54 locomotive, obtained clearance from the dispatcher and arrived at the Hazel Kirk supply yard at 4:45 p.m.

Both Puskar and Thomas examined the supply trip prior to moving it and considered it safe to transport. Puskar assumed the role of lead motorman and coupled onto the front of the trip with the No. 54 locomotive. He pulled the trip to the front end of the Hazel Kirk trestle, where he stopped to obtain dispatcher clearance, which was granted at approximately 5:11 p.m. Puskar then pulled the trip inby the front end of the trestle and stopped so Thomas could couple the No. 90 locomotive to the trailing end of the trip. They proceeded to transport the trip across the Hazel Kirk trestle and into the mine down the Hazel Kirk slope using the electric brakes of the trailing locomotive to provide additional dynamic braking power. As Puskar lead the trip down the slope, approximately 900 feet in length, he noticed nothing unusual. When he passed the concrete block rib retaining wall located approximately 225 feet inby the slope bottom, he placed the controller at the first point to initiate acceleration.

At that time, Puskar felt what he characterized as a jerk on the trip as though Thomas had applied the brakes. When Puskar looked back, he noticed that there were no lights on the trailing locomotive. He brought the trip to a complete stop and walked back to the rear of the trip. As Puskar reached the supply cars, he heard Thomas call for help. He found Thomas lying backward over the rear of the operator's compartment of the locomotive. Puskar helped Thomas back onto the seat in the operator's compartment. Thomas asked Puskar what had happened. Realizing that Thomas may be seriously injured, Puskar told him that he was going to call for help. At approximately 5:21 p.m., Puskar called the dispatcher and told him that Thomas had been hurt and that he needed help. Puskar returned to Thomas and found him unresponsive.

Keslar and Grey, who were located at the 2 East switch, about 7,000 feet away, heard Puskar's call to the dispatcher. They immediately traveled to the accident scene, where they found Thomas slumped in the seat of his locomotive with no vital signs. Thomas was placed on the mine floor and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was initiated. The Bentworth Ambulance Service, Inc. crew arrived at the accident scene at about 5:50 p.m. and continued CPR while transporting Thomas to the surface. They arrived at the waiting ambulance at about 6:00 p.m. and continued CPR en route to the Monongahela Valley General Hospital, Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Thomas was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the abdomen.


MSHA was notified at 6:50 p.m. on October 26, 1996, that a fatal powered haulage accident had occurred. MSHA personnel arrived at the mine at 9:30 p.m. A 103(k) Order was issued to ensure the safety of the miners.

MSHA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection jointly conducted the investigation with the assistance of mine management personnel, the miners and representatives of the miners.

On October 26, 1996, representatives from all parties initiated the on-site portion of the investigation. Photographs were taken and relevant measurements and sketches were made of the accident site.

The physical portion of the investigation was completed October 30, 1996 and the 103(k) Order was terminated.


The investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence of the accident:
  1. The supply trip, 134 feet in length, consisted of six vehicles arranged as follows:

    - No. 54 General Electric Model LME-2020-MT 20-Ton Locomotive measuring 26-feet long, 5-feet 10-inches wide, 3- feet 7-inches high;

    - An Ohio Valley Model 115 Shield Car measuring 30-feet long, 7-feet wide, 4-1/2-feet high;

    - A USS Slag Car measuring 24-feet long, 7-feet wide, 4-feet high;

    - Two USS Model F-90 Supply Cars each measuring 14-feet long, 6-feet wide, 19-inches high carrying the Anchor Longwall Co., longwall equipment sled measuring 20-feet long, 8-feet wide, 6- to 16-inches high;

    - No. 90 General Electric Model LME-2020-MT 20-Ton Locomotive measuring 26-feet long, 5-feet 10-inches wide, 3- feet 7-inches high.

    Each vehicle of the supply trip was found to be in safe operating condition.

  2. The sled was originally secured to the two supply cars by chaining each corner with a 5-feet length of 3/8-inch chain. The chains were connected to the supply cars and sled using 3/8-inch bolts, nuts and flat washers. The heads of the bolts and the nuts measured 9/16-inch. The outside diameter of the washers measured 1-inch.

    The outby angled end of the sled was secured at each corner by looping the chain through a mounting hole on the sled and bolting the links together. The opposite ends of these chains were bolted to the supply car through 3/4-inch diameter holes.

    The inby flat end of the sled was secured by two chains. Each chain was bolted through a 3/4-inch diameter hole in the ends of the 40 lb. rails that were welded to the sled. The opposite ends of these chains were looped through 3-inch diameter holes in the supply car and the links bolted together.

  3. The supply trip traveled along the Hazel Kirk supply yard track and over the trestle prior to going underground. The track in the supply yard makes a 30-degree turn to the left, a 30-degree turn to the right and a 90-degree turn to the left. As the track approaches the trestle, it raises at a 5-percent grade and forms a knuckle at the trestle. The track on the trestle levels out until it forms another knuckle where it descends at a 6-percent grade into the mine. The track and the 600 volt d.c. trolley system in this area were found to be in good condition.

  4. The sled was found wedged between the rib and a concrete block rib retaining wall approximately 225 feet inby the slope bottom. The inby tight side corner of the sled was imbedded 8 inches into the wall, about 25 inches above the mine floor. The wall juts out away from the rib line approximately 5 to 6 inches, changing the tight side clearance from about 41 to 35 inches. The outby wide side corner was wedged against the rib 38 inches above the mine floor. There was evidence 35 inches directly above this point of where the steel corner had impacted against the rib. Severe scoring had occurred along the underside of the sled where the top of the No. 90 locomotive had passed underneath.

  5. Approximately 105 feet outby the sled, scrape marks were evident along the tight side rib and continued for a distance of 25 feet where the sled had rubbed against the rib and protruding rib bolts. The clearance in this area ranged from about 40 to 45 inches between rib and track. Based on the track gauge of 44 inches, car width of 72 inches, and the original location of the sled on the car, the clearance between the sled and tight side rib should have ranged between 14 and 19 inches in this area.

  6. The outby end of the No. 90 locomotive, where the victim was found, was approximately 65 feet inby the sled. The controller was found in the neutral position and the air brake was off. The damage to the front and top of the locomotive indicated that the locomotive first struck the wedged sled and then continued to pass underneath it. The No. 54 and No. 90 locomotives were inspected after the accident. No deficiencies were found.

  7. The trolley pole from the No. 90 locomotive was found laying partially underneath the sled. The victim's hard hat was found approximately 1-1/2 feet inby the sled and his eyeglasses approximately 59 feet inby the sled.

  8. An examination of the connection points revealed that four of the eight connection points had failed when the 3/8-inch nuts and the 1-inch diameter washers pulled through the two 3/4-inch bolt holes in the rails and the two 3/4-inch bolt holes in the supply car. The other four connection points, where links of chain were bolted together, held.

  9. A reenactment of the movement of the supply trip on the surface conducted during the investigation revealed that after traveling around the three curves in the supply yard, the sled had shifted on the supply cars about 9 inches toward the tight side. As the supply trip crossed over the first knuckle on the trestle, the nut and washer of the inby right connection point pulled through the hole in the rail. It was decided to terminate the reenactment at that time.

  10. Although the two motormen operating the supply trip were classified as general inside laborers, each had performed the work tasks of supply motorman and had demonstrated safe operating procedures for those tasks. According to the work ledger maintained for the six-month period preceding the accident, Puskar had performed the duties of supply motorman during 25 shifts and Thomas during 86 shifts.


The fatal accident occurred because a longwall equipment sled loaded onto two haulage vehicles was not secured in a manner that would prevent its movement. During transporting, the equipment sled skewed to one side of the supply car and impacted a concrete rib retaining wall, resulting in the sled wedging between the wall and opposite rib. As the trip continued to move forward, the sled was forced up over top the inby end of the trailing locomotive. When the operators compartment of the locomotive passed underneath the sled, the victim struck the sled and was fatally injured. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the abdomen.


  1. A 103(k) Order was issued to ensure the safety of miners until an investigation could be conducted.

  2. A Notice To Provide Safeguard was issued requiring:

    1. Mining equipment and/or mining components being transported shall not exceed the length or width of the supply car being used unless specifically designed conveyances are used.

    2. The mining equipment and/or mining components being transported will be adequately secured to the conveyance on which it is being transported.

  3. The longwall equipment sled that was loaded on two supply cars at the Hazel Kirk supply yard to be hauled underground was not loaded and protected so as to prevent sliding, a violation of 30 CFR 77.1607(r).

Respectfully submitted by:

Thomas E. McCort
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Kenneth A. Murray
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Approved by:

Joe J. Garcia
District Manager, Coal Mine Safety and Health District 2

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB96C28