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District 4



Upper Big Branch Mine-South (I.D. No. 46-08436)
Performance Coal Company
Oasis Contracting, Inc. (I.D. No. NPD)
Montcoal, Raleigh County, West Virginia

January 23, 1998


Jerry E. Sumpter
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Jon A. Braenovich
Mining Engineer - Roof Control

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
100 Bluestone Road, Mount Hope, West Virginia 25880
Earnest C. Teaster, Jr., District Manager

Release Date: May 14, 1998


The Upper Big Branch Mine - South, Performance Coal Company, is located at Montcoal, Raleigh County, West Virginia. On November 5, 1994, Performance Coal Company started mining coal in the Eagle coalbed. The Eagle coalbed, which averages 72 inches in thickness, is penetrated by 19 drift openings, a 13-foot diameter shaft, and a 24" diameter bleeder hole. The mine is ventilated by one exhausting and one blowing fan that provide ventilation for the mine.

Each fan produces approximately 450,000 cfm. The No. 2 Upper Big Gap Branch fan, produces 450,000 cfm on a blowing system. A 24-inch bleeder exhaust borehole and a 13-foot open ventilation shaft are on the back side of the longwall panels. Plans are to add additional fans in the next few months.

The mine liberates 1,000,000 cubic feet of methane in a 24-hour period. Coal is produced on three advancing continuous-mining-machine sections and one longwall section and is transported from the advancing working faces to the section dumping point with shuttle cars. Joy 14CM15 remote-controlled continuous-mining machines are utilized on the advancing sections, and a Joy 4LS Model 04L509-U4656LK, double-ended, ranging drum-type shearer removes coal from the 1,000-foot retreating longwall face.

A series of belt conveyors transport coal from the working section to the surface, producing 30,000 raw tons daily. The mine employs 178 miners on 3 shifts a day, 7 days per week. Coal is produced on the day and evening shifts and maintenance is performed on the midnight shift.

The Upper Big Branch Mine South, Performance Coal Company, is a subsidiary of A. T. Massey Coal Company, located in Richmond, Va. The principal officers of A. T. Massey Coal Company are as follows: Don L. Blankenship, President/Chairmain of the Board; Fletcher A. Cooke, Secretary; David A. Ufew, Vice-President/Treasurer; and Paul S. Barbery, Senior Vice President/General Counsel. The principal officers of Performance Coal Company are Rick Craig, President/Treasurer; Gary Frampton, Superintendent; Larry Bane, Safety Director; and Wendell Wills, Mine Foreman. A Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regular (AAA) inspection at this mine was ongoing at the time of the accident.

Oasis Contracting, Inc., I.D. No. NPD, is located at Coalburg, Kanawha County, West Virginia, and provides employment for 74 employees. Oasis Contracting, Inc., provides contracting services for Performance Coal Company in constructing overcasts and other general underground labor. At the time of the accident, five employees were constructing the overcast. The principal officers of Oasis Contracting, Inc., are Philip Farley, President, and Ruth A. Walker, Secretary.


The No. 4 headgate construction crew, under the supervision of Danny Jarrell, supervisor for Performance Coal Company, entered the mine at 4:00 p.m. on January 23, 1998. Upon arrival at the construction site, an examination of the work area where an overcast was being constructed, was performed by Jarrell. After his examination, Jarrell gave the construction crew their assignments to build the overcast. Danny Johnson, Arthur Gallagher, Rick Bostic, Jeremy Lester, and Anthony Williams were employees for Oasis Contracting, Inc. The overcast had been under construction for two days prior to the accident. "H" beams and "I" beams were being used to erect the roof and sidewalls of the overcast. After the sidewall beams were measured and welded together, the sidewalls were erected. Drill steel tack-welded to the sidewalls, was used as props to support sidewalls. Johnson was stacking 16 inch x 8 inch x 4 inch solid cement blocks inside the sidewall. The ceiling had been constructed with these blocks placed between the "H" beams. According to Bostic, he had used a forklift to bring several loads of block and Quickcrete to the work area.

After the ceiling was assembled, additional material was placed on top of the ceiling to seal the concrete blocks and to form a wing wall. According to Lester, when the accident occurred he was performing work on top of the structure, Bostic was in the adjacent entry (track entry), Jarrell and Gallagher were at the construction site. Jarrell stated that he observed movement in the structure at approximately 6:20 p.m., and called to the workers to get in the clear. Lester and Gallagher jumped off a pallet of blocks placed near the structure, to safety. Jarrell was already standing in the clear between them.

According to Jarrell, Johnson was underneath the structure, building sidewalls with the concrete blocks. Johnson attempted to run from under the structure, when the materials fell, striking him in the upper body and head and pinning him to the mine floor. Jarrell and the construction crew responded and recovered Johnson. Jarrell stated that he checked the victim's vital signs and found none.

Recovery of the victim consisted of: (1) trying to use the forklift to remove the fallen materials off the victim, (2) physically lifting the heavy structure off the victim, and (3), two of the construction crew workers went to the next entry (track entry), and retrieved a Simplex jack and bar and removed the victim from underneath the materials. Jarrell went to a telephone and called outside to report the accident. Truman Bays, Chief Electrician, immediately had the dispatcher call the Whitesville Ambulance Service. Bays then went to the accident site with a large first-aid box.

The accident occurred at approximately 6:20 p.m. At 6:50 p.m. the victim was transported to the surface of the mine. At 7:20 p.m. the victim was transported to the State Medical Examiner's Office located in South Charleston, West Virginia, and pronounced dead on arrival by Dr. Sabat.


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was notified of the accident at 6:35 p.m. on January 23, 1998. MSHA personnel began to arrive at the mine at 9:30 p.m. A 103(k) order was issued to ensure the safety of the miners until the accident investigation could be completed. Representatives of MSHA and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training conducted a joint investigation with the assistance of mine management and miners at the mine.

An on-site investigation was conducted on January 23 and February 2, 1998. The accident site and immediate area were examined. The operator presented steps to be taken to prevent a reoccurrence of a similar accident, and on February 2, 1998, MSHA observed mine management constructing and erecting a similar overcast, using the new procedures.

MSHA and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training conducted interviews of individuals having knowledge of the facts surrounding the accident. The interviews were conducted in the Upper Big Branch Mine - South training room at Montcoal, West Virginia, on January 26, 1998 at 9:00 a.m. The physical portion of the investigation was completed on February 2, 1998, and the 103(k) order was terminated.



Examination of records indicated that all required training had been conducted in accordance with Part 48, Title 30 CFR. The victim was task trained on 1/24/97 by Performance Coal Company concerning general labor outby tasks. The other four Oasis Contracting employees were task trained on 2/6/97.


Record books indicated that the required preshift, on-shift, electrical, and weekly examinations were being conducted in accordance with Part 75, Title 30 CFR.

Physical Factors
  1. The overcast being constructed provided services for a conveyor belt system, which was to pass underneath the overcast.

  2. A battery-operated forklift was used to bring materials from the track entry to the overcast construction.

  3. Two of the four contracted employees working at the accident site were trainees employed by Oasis Contracting, Inc.

  4. Only one beam installed on the ceiling was welded to the sidewall metal frame.

  5. Inferior and insufficient bracing was used to support the sidewalls and ceiling. Drill steel was used as propping.

  6. It was determined that the overcast ceiling, prior to falling, had eighteen "H" beams with 240 blocks installed between the "H" beams forming the roof, with just the sidewall framing carrying this overhead load.

  7. An estimated weight of 9 tons of material in the overhead ceiling fell during the accident.

  8. The entry width at the accident scene was approximately 20 feet, 2 inches and the height was approximately 12 feet.

  9. The "H" beams being used to construct the overcast were 20 feet in length and 20 lbs. per foot.

  10. The solid concrete block measured 16 inches in length, 8 inches in width, 4 inches in thickness and weighed 32 lbs.

  11. It was determined that 240 bags of Quickcrete were on top of the overcast. The Quickrete weighed 60 lbs. per bag.

  12. After the overcast was constructed, Quickcrete cement was used to bond the cracks and joints to form an airtight roof.


The accident and resultant fatality occurred while the victim was working under an overcast structure which suddenly collapsed. The investigation revealed that the top of the structure contained only one welded "H" beam. The stability of the entire structure was dependent upon the integrity of this one set of welds. This method of construction resulted in the fatality of the victim.


A 103(k) order No. 4623588 was issued to protect the health and safety of the miners until an accident investigation could be completed.

Submitted by:

Jerry E. Sumpter
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Jon A. Braenovich
Mining Engineer - Roof Control

Approved by:

Richard J. Kline
Assistant District Manager

Earnest C. Teaster, Jr.
District Manager