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District 5

(Underground Coal Mine)

Fatal Fall of Roof

Solus #1 (I.D. 44-06708)
Solus Coal, Inc.
Cedar Bluff, Tazewell County, Virginia

May 15, 1997


Luther E. Marrs
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Linda Hrovatic
Mining Engineer

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
P.O. Box 560, Norton, Va. 24273
Ray McKinney, District Manager

Release Date
August 11, 1997


Solus Coal, Inc.'s Solus #1 mine is located in Middle Creek approximately six miles from Cedar Bluff on State Route 621 in Tazewell County, Virginia. Mining height ranges from 36 to 60 inches. The mine liberates approximately 37,000 cubic feet of methane in 24 hours.

The mine was developed by room-and-pillar method utilizing continuous mining machines. Transportation of employees to the section is via battery powered rail equipment and battery powered rubber-tired personnel carriers. Coal is conveyed from the face to the section belt by three battery powered ram cars and then to the surface by belt conveyor. Coal is transported from the mine to Covenant Coal Corp's., Genesis Preparation Plant located in Middle Creek, Virginia, approximately one-half mile from the mine, via trucks contracted by Covenant Coal Corp. The offices of Covenant Coal Corp. are located approximately two miles from the mine site and provide engineering and mine maps for the operation.

The mine employs 30 persons underground and five on the surface. The mine operates two production shifts and one maintenance shift per day, five days a week, producing 2,000 tons of coal per day. At the time of the accident the single working section was using a remote controlled continuous mining machine to conduct retreat mining.

The immediate mine roof consists of approximately 11 to 27 feet of sandy shale, periodically interbedded with sandstone. The main roof consists of approximately 18-24 feet of sandstone. The total overburden at the mine ranges from 100 feet at the portals to approximately 600 feet, varying at the location of the accident from 300-420 feet.

The Approved Roof Control Plan, dated February 9, 1996, contained specific provisions for retreat mining utilizing a three cut pillar recovery method with 30 feet deep-cuts. Deep-cut provisions were not approved for advance mining.

Principal officials for Solus Coal, Inc., at the time of the accident were:
President............................................Jack L. Simmons
Treasurer............................................Bill R. Simmons
General Manager................................David Bandy
Mine Superintendent...........................Roger Brown
Director..............................................Dennis Simmons
Miner's Representative........................None elected

Principal officials for Covenant Coal Corp. at the time of the accident were:
President............................................William B. Simmons
VP/Sec./Treas.....................................Jeffery Simmons
Director...............................................Jack L. Simmons
Director...............................................Bill R. Simmons
Director...............................................Dennis Simmons
Director...............................................Ronald Jackson
Director...............................................George T. Kidd

The last MSHA Safety and Health Inspection (AAA) was completed on May 13, 1997. The NFDL Rate at the mine was 9.54 compared to the National NFDL Rate of 8.05 for the quarter prior to the accident.


At 2:30 p.m., May 15, 1997, the second shift crew under the supervision of Section Foreman Jeffrey Phillips entered the mine and traveled to the 001-0 Section. Mining began shortly thereafter in the No. 8 Entry with the mining machine, operated by Thomas Layne Kinder, starting the left cut in the No. 7 Pillar. Roof Bolting Machine Operator Okey Grimmett was assisting as the mining machine helper. Approximately 30 minutes after mining began, Phillips reassigned Grimmett to set posts with Dave Ball, roof bolting machine/scoop operator. Phillips then assisted Kinder with the operation of the mining machine.

At approximately 5:15 p.m. Phillips helped Kinder tram the mining machine into the No. 6 Entry to begin the left cut of the No. 5 Pillar. At approximately 6:15 p.m. Phillips went to ask Grimmett to assist Kinder until he examined the return. At that time, Grimmett was installing posts in the right crosscut immediately outby the No. 5 Pillar. Phillips left Grimmett and returned to the mining machine.

Kinder had just completed mining the left cut and was preparing to back the mining machine out when Phillips entered the working place. Phillips started to help Kinder move the mining machine cable when the mine roof collapsed, trapping both Kinder and Phillips.

Grimmett stated he "caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye". When he turned in the direction of the mining machine, the mine roof had fallen and he heard Phillips calling out his name. Grimmett went to the edge of the fall and attempted to contact Kinder and Phillips. After getting a response from both men, Grimmett noticed that a slip in the mine roof had partially fallen and that the slip continued across the intersection. Hauler Operator Phillip Vance and Electrician Larry Smith, arrived at the site and started removing the fallen roof material. Grimmett called for Dave Ball and Anthony Lee, roof bolting machine operators, to set posts in the intersection outby the roof fall. Grimmett then traveled to the mine phone, located at the section loading point, and called Sam Barnett, outside person, and informed him of the fall. Barnett was instructed to call the rescue squad, mine rescue team, the Division of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) and Mine Superintendent Roger Brown. Grimmett returned to the accident site where the crew was still trying to free Phillips. The crew continued to communicate with both Phillips and Kinder and attempted to determine their condition. Approximately 15 minutes after the first fall, the mine roof started to fall again. The rescuers were forced to retreat from the area. Upon returning to the site, voice contact was reestablished with both men. At about 7:00 p.m. the crew could no longer obtain a response from Kinder.

Grimmett returned to the mine phone to determine if help had arrived. Barnett informed him that he had contacted the rescue squad. Barnett told Grimmett that he had been able to reach Buster Lamie, mine foreman, and Lamie was on his way to the mine. Barnett continued attempts to notify Brown and David Bandy, general mine manager. Grimmett returned to the roof fall where the crew was still trying to free Phillips and Kinder.

After being notified of the accident, Mine Superintendent Roger Brown immediately left for the mine and stopped en route at the residence of DMME Inspector Joe Altizer, at approximately 7:20 p.m. Upon his arrival at the mine, at approximately 7:30 p.m., Brown called Harold Altizer, MSHA Supervisory Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector at his home and informed him of the entrapment.

Grimmett traveled to the surface and transported Lamie underground. They arrived at the accident site at approximately 8:05 p.m. The crew was in the process of freeing Phillips from the fall. Phillips was removed from under the fallen roof material, placed on a backboard, and transported to the surface. At 9:05 p.m., Phillips was transported to the Columbia Clinch Valley Medical Center in Richlands, Virginia by the Golden Star Rescue Squad. Phillips was diagnosed as having a broken pelvis and crushed right leg.

Harold Altizer contacted Clarence Boone, Ventilation Specialist, and requested his assistance in the recovery of the trapped miners. Boone and Altizer traveled to the Richlands Field Office to obtain hydraulic lifting jacks. Upon arrival at the office, Altizer notified other MSHA personnel and requested assistance with the recovery. Boone and Altizer departed from the office and arrived at the mine as the rescue squad was leaving the mine with Phillips.

Boone, Brown and DMME personnel Joe Altizer, Wayne Davis, and Dave Elswick entered the mine and traveled to the accident site. Other MSHA and DMME personnel arrived to assist throughout the rescue effort.

Kinder was recovered at approximately 1:46 a.m., May 16, 1997, and taken to the surface. At approximately 2:30 a.m., Kinder was transported to the Columbia Clinch Valley Medical Center by the Golden Star Rescue Squad where he was pronounced dead by Doctor Sherif Shoukry, at 3:00 a.m.


Approved Roof Control Plan

The Roof Control Plan for the Solus #1 mine was approved by the MSHA District Manager on February 9, 1996, and the Virginia DMME Chief on February 12, 1996.

The Approved Roof Control Plan stipulates that the continuous mining machine's maximum cut depth of 30 feet and cut width of 24 feet can be taken during second mining, with the following provisions:
  • A "deep-cut" is defined as a working place where the cut depth of 20 feet has been exceeded (as measured from the last "full row" of roof bolts).

  • The 30 feet deep-cut provision is only applicable to pillar recovery.
  • A conspicuous mark on the continuous mining machine or other means to indicate when the maximum cut depth is attained during "deep-cut" mining will be provided.

  • When adverse roof conditions are encountered, the continuous mining machine cut depth shall be limited to 20 feet or less, as necessary to provide effective roof control.

  • While taking a "deep-cut" the continuous mining machine will be operated only by remote control.

  • No one shall proceed inby the second "full row" of roof bolts while the continuous mining machine is increasing cut depth in development of a "deep-cut".

  • The width of the pillar split will be governed by the conditions and limited to 20 feet with the exception of the start of the split, which will not exceed 24 feet for a distance of 4 feet.

  • Observations and Measurements on the Working Section

    The accident investigation team made the following observations and measurements on the 001-0 Section:
  • Measurements taken of cuts mined by the day and second shifts on the date of the accident were as follows:

  • No. 10 Entry Right Cut from the barrier block, measured in excess of 36 feet 5 inches in depth.

  • No. 10 Entry Straight Cut from the barrier block, measured in excess of 32 feet in depth.

  • No. 9 Entry Straight Cut from the barrier block, measured in excess of 39 feet 6 inches in depth.

  • No. 7 Entry Right Front Cut from the No. 7 Pillar, measured in excess of 28 feet 8 inches in width.

  • No. 7 Entry Left Cut from the No. 6 Pillar, measured in excess of 25 feet in width and 48 feet 6 inches in depth.

  • Observations and Measurements at the Accident Site

    The following observations and measurements were made by the accident investigation team at the No. 5 Pillar (roof fall location) 70 feet inby Survey Station No. 4073:
  • The mining machine was located under the fallen roof material in the first retreat cut taken from the No. 5 Pillar in the No. 6 Entry of the 001-0 Section.

  • The depth of cut taken in the left split of the No. 5 Pillar measured in excess of 41 feet.

  • A visible geologic anomaly in the form of a high-angle slip was present in the roof strata and was encompassed within the limits of the cut and paralleled the direction of mining in the first retreat cut of the No. 5 Pillar. The slip measured approximately 4 inches in width beginning in the right outby corner of the intersection and widening to approximately 27 inches at the edge of the fallen material. The slip had additional support in the form of oversized roof bolt bearing plates (6 X 16 inches) which were installed during development of the section.

  • Due to unsafe roof conditions in and around the area of the roof fall, the size of the roof fall located in the No. 6 Entry was plotted on a copy of the mine map and determined to be approximately 50+ feet in width and 50+ feet in length and was approximately 8 feet in height.

  • Examinations

    Based on interviews with the miners and day shift section foreman and the record of the 001-0 Section's preshift examination conducted on the day of the accident, the hazardous conditions that existed or were created on the section by the day shift were neither acknowledged in the preshift record nor addressed during the day shift with any corrective action.

    Interviews with the miners and the second shift foreman indicated the hazardous conditions that existed from the day shift had not been acknowledged or addressed during the second shift foreman's on-shift examination of the 001-0 Section.


    Based on a review of training certificates and interviews with the miners, all miners had received mandated training. However, due to the physical evidence gathered during the investigation indicating noncompliance with the Approved Roof Control Plan, a roof control training session was provided for the employees prior to resumption of mining.


    Mine management failed to follow the Approved Roof Control Plan while conducting retreat mining on the 001-0 Section. Pillar and barrier cut depths were excessive in both length and/or widths at five locations. Faulty pillar recovery methods and removal of more coal than permitted by the plan's design allowed lateral or abutment pressures from the gob to overcome the mine roof at the location of the continuous mining machine while mining was being conducted. The roof fall resulted from a failure to comply with the Approved Roof Control Plan where adverse roof conditions existed in the form of an obvious and visible roof slip.


    The following enforcement actions were taken and the citation and orders were issued to Solus Coal Inc. and Covenant Coal Corp. as operators of the mine.
  • A 103(k) Order (No. 3358178) was issued to assure the safety of all persons in the mine until an inspection or investigation could be conducted and the area deemed safe to enter.

  • A 104(d)(1) Citation (No. 3358404) was issued for a violation of 30 CFR, 75.203(a) for faulty pillar recovery methods which exposed persons to hazards from excessive cut widths and depths.

  • A 104(d)(1) Order (No. 3358406) was issued for a violation of 30 CFR, 75.220(a)(1) for the operator's failure to comply with the Approved Roof Control Plan for not limiting cut depth to 20 feet or less where adverse roof conditions were present.

  • A 104(d)(1) Order (No. 3358408) was issued for a violation of 30 CFR, 75.360 for an inadequate preshift examination on May 15, 1997.

  • A 104(d)(1) Order (No. 3358409) was issued for a violation of 75.362 for an inadequate on-shift examination of the 001-0 Section during the second shift on May 15, 1997.

  • Respectfully submitted:

    Luther E. Marrs
    Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

    Linda Hrovatic
    Mining Engineer


    Ray McKinney
    District Manager

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