Skip to content

District 6



PETTYS FORK MINE #1 (I.D. No. 15-17742)

OCTOBER 5, 1998





Originating Office - Coal Mine Safety and Health Administration, District 6
100 Ratliff Creek Road, Pikeville, Kentucky 41501
Carl E. Boone, II, District Manager


Pettys Fork Mine #1 of Branham & Baker Coal Co., Inc. is located off U.S. 23, near Dorton, in Pike County, Kentucky. The principal company officer is Donn Chickering, President.

The mine consists of two pits with one spread of equipment used for both pit areas. The mine produces coal from six coal seams: Taylor Rider, Taylor, Hamlin, Hazard #4 Rider, Hazard #4, and Whitesburg #3. The mining process involves drilling holes, insertion of explosives, detonation of explosives, removal of overburden and removal of coal from each seam as the process is repeated. Coal is then transported by truck to loadout facilities at the Rob Fork Processing Plant, approximately 13 miles away.

Energetic Solutions of Lancer, Kentucky, is contracted by Branham & Baker Coal Co., Inc., to mark drill hole locations, insert explosives into drill holes, and detonate these explosives.

The Pettys Fork Mine #1 currently employs 34 persons. Four production crews are utilized by the company. A twelve hour day-shift and twelve hour night-shift operate on four consecutive days. Another set (day-shift and night-shift) crews operate the next four days. The crews alternate working every four days. Maintenance is conducted as scheduled and needed. The mine normally operates seven days-per-week, producing an average of 1,300 tons of coal per day.

The last complete health and safety inspection of the mine conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration was completed on September 30, 1998.


On Monday, October 5, 1998, at approximately 6:00 p.m., the night-shift crew consisting of twelve employees entered the mine for the regularly scheduled production shift. Jedford Colvin, night-shift foreman, assigned the employees their duties.

Prior to the start of the second shift, three contract employees of Energetic Solutions, loaded drill holes and blasted overburden material from the No. 1 Pit, located approximately 20 feet from the No. 2 Pit. Detonation of the explosives occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. After detonation of the explosives, Mr. Lindell Begley, certified blaster, examined the No. 1 and No. 2 pit areas for hazards. Begley examined the highwall before marking hole locations to be drilled. Begley found no hazards.

Soon after the detonation of explosives and the post-blasting examination, night-shift personnel resumed the mining cycle. Gene Combs, bulldozer operator, began removing overburden opposite the No. 1 pit. Randy Riley was operating a bulldozer at the No. 1 Pit. William Neil Hall, highwall drill operator, trammed an Ingersoll-Rand Model DML-45 (Serial # 7302) highwall drill onto the Hazard #4 Rider bench, while three employees of Energetic Solutions were at the bench marking drill hole locations. The contract employees finished marking the hole locations and left the bench site. Hall started to drill holes in the bench, beginning with marked locations adjacent to the No. 1 Pit. Hall drilled one hole in the pattern directly under the highwall and began to drill a second hole. At approximately 7:00 p.m., while moving overburden material, Randy Riley observed the mast of the highwall drill operated by Hall shake violently and a large cloud of dust encompass the highwall drill. Riley attempted to contact Hall via a citizens band radio, but there was no response from Hall. Gene Combs, who was removing overburden adjacent to the highwall drill, overheard Riley attempt to contact Hall and looked in the direction of the highwall drill. Combs stated he could see a cloud of dust in the area where the drill was located. Combs left his bulldozer and proceeded to the highwall drill. Upon arriving at the drill, Combs observed that the operator's cab had been severely damaged by rock. Combs could only see Hall's arm extending from the operator's cab. Riley also traveled to the drill site. Mark Gibson, mine emergency technician, located on mine property, heard the attempt to contact Hall via citizens-band radio and traveled to the scene. Gibson checked Hall for vital signs but was unable to detect a pulse.

The three blasting contractor employees that had previously marked the drill hole pattern were approximately 600 feet from the bench area. They noticed a dust cloud from the location of the drill, and informed Jedford Colvin, who was traveling to meet with them about another blast area. Colvin then proceeded to the accident site.

At 7:06 p.m., Colvin called "911" for assistance. The Shelby Creek Rescue Squad from Dorton, Kentucky, and the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals (KDMM) Rescue Team from Pikeville, Kentucky, were dispatched to the scene. W. L. May, Safety Director for Branham & Baker, contacted MSHA at approximately 7:40 p.m. Company personnel attempted to rescue the victim using equipment on mine property. At 9:45 p.m., enough rock had been removed from the cab to allow Charles Morris, Pike County Coroner, to check Hall for signs of life. None were found and the coroner pronounced Hall dead. Recovery activities continued until 10:30 p.m., when Hall's body was recovered from the cab of the highwall drill. Hall was transported from the mine site by the coroner.


An investigation of the accident began at approximately 8:45 p.m., October 5, 1998. MSHA personnel traveled to the mine site and met with mine officials and officials of KDMM. MSHA investigators traveled to the accident scene where KDMM and Shelby Creek Rescue Squad personnel were trying to rescue the victim. A 103(k) order was issued to ensure the safety of the miners. The area was photographed, sketched, and pertinent measurements were taken. A review of the accident details, according to the eyewitness, were reviewed. Preliminary data about the victim was obtained and a schedule for interviewing the crew was established. Interviews of four miners, two members of company management, and three explosive company employees (contractors) were conducted from October 6-7, 1998.


The investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence of the accident:

  1. There were no known eyewitnesses to the material falling from the highwall. Randy Riley and Gene Combs, bulldozer operators, as well as Lindell Begley, Everett Turner, and Jimmy Johnson, contract blasting employees, observed the cloud of dust resulting from the falling rocks.

  2. From the top of the highwall down to the #4 Hazard Rider bench measured approximately 25 feet. From the #4 Hazard Rider bench to the next lower safety-bench was approximately 48 feet.

  3. The highwall is made up of laminated shale and sandstone rock.

  4. A safety bench was located 48 feet above the highwall drill. The bench was approximately 15 feet wide. The ground control plan states that a 15-foot safety bench will be left at the #4 Hazard Rider level.

  5. The acknowledged ground control plan was not being followed. A safety bench was not being provided on the #4 Hazard Rider level. This was the level on which the highwall drill was located when the fatal fall of rock accident. To meet the plan requirements the drill would have had to be positioned an additional 15 feet out from the base of the highwall.

  6. The weather on the day of the accident was sunny with a high temperature of 84 degrees, no precipitation, and the sun set at 7:14 p.m.

  7. The rock which struck the operator's cab of the highwall drill measured approximately seven and one-half feet long, seven feet wide, and four feet thick.

  8. Loose unconsolidated material was present on the highwall.

  9. The victim was operating an Ingersoll-Rand Model DML-45 (Serial # 7302) highwall drill located 7 feet away from the base of the highwall at the time of the accident.

  10. No augering or highwall mining had been done in the coal seams in this area.

  11. The orientation of the highwall drill at the time of the accident placed the operator's compartment next to the highwall. The cab of the highwall drill is an environmental cab, and was not designed for falling object protection.

  12. The victim had received all training required by 30 CFR, Part 48, prior to the accident.

  13. Each miner interviewed stated that company policy was to position the operator's cab of a highwall drill opposite the highwall. According to testimony, it was not a practice for the victim to operate the drill with the operators cab adjacent to the highwall.

  14. The onshift examination conducted at the #2 Pit, Hazard #4 Rider bench was inadequate. The onshift record book documented that an examination had been conducted on October 5, 1998, at the beginning of the shift by Raymond M. Daniel, lead foreman and Jedford Gay Colvin, foreman. An inspection following the accident revealed tension cracks in several places along the top of the highwall. Loose rock was found intermittently along the highwall, and the highwall had not been adequately stripped/scaled.

  15. The death certificate lists the cause of death as massive internal injuries to the head and chest.


The accident occurred because loose, unconsolidated material was allowed to exist on the highwall above the No. 2 Pit while drilling operations were in progress. Contributing factors to the accident included inadequate examinations for hazardous conditions on the highwall and the failure to comply with the company's ground control plan. The drill was positioned in close proximity to the highwall which substantially increased the victim's exposure to hazardous highwall conditions.


  1. A 103 (k) Order (No. 7357711) was issued on October 5, 1998, to Branham & Baker Coal Co., Inc., Pettys Fork Mine #1, to ensure the safety of the miners working in the area.

  2. A 104 (d)(1) Citation (No. 7354088) was issued on October 9, 1998, to Branham & Baker Coal Co., Inc., Pettys Fork Mine #1, for a violation of 30 CFR, Part 77.1001. Loose hazardous and unconsolidated material in the form of blasted sandstone and shale rock was not stripped/scaled from the top and face portion of the 73-foot highwall on the Hazard Rider Drill Bench, No. 2 Pit.

  3. A 104 (d)(1) Order (No. 7351455) was issued on October 9, 1998, to Branham & Baker Coal Co., Inc., Pettys Fork Mine #1, for a violation of 30 CFR, Part 77.1713(a). An adequate on-shift examination for hazardous conditions had not been made for the highwall at the No. 2 Pit on the Hazard #4 Rider seam.

  4. A 104 (d)(1) Order (No. 7351486) was issued on October 9, 1998, to Branham & Baker Coal Co., Inc., for a violation of 30 CFR, Part 77.1000. The operator of this mine was not following the established ground control plan.


Mark V. Bartley
Electrical Engineer

Robert H. Bellamy
Mining Engineer

B. G. Cure
Coal Mine Safety and Health Specialist


Carl E. Boone, II
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB98C23