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District 8

Accident Investigation Report
Surface Coal Mine

Fatal Fall of Highwall
Solar Sources #2 Mine (I.D. No. 12-01616)
Petersburg, Pike County, Indiana

February 24, 1999


Michael E. Pike
Mine Safety and Health Specialist

Wilbur C. Deuel
Mine Safety and Health Specialist

Origination Office Mine Safety and Health Administration, District 8
2300 Old Decker Road, Suite 200, Vincennes, Indiana 47591
James K. Oakes, District Manager

Solar Sources #2 Mine, Solar Sources, Inc., is located two miles south of Petersburg, Indiana, off State Route 61, in Pike County, Indiana.
The principal company officers are: Felson Bowman President and Director
Donald A. Keller Vice President of Operations
Stephen R. Edwards Safety Director The mine operates two pits and produces coal from three coal seams: Indiana No. 5, Indiana No. 5B, and Indiana No. 6. The mining process consists of a truck/shovel operation involving drilling blast holes, insertion of explosives, detonation of explosives, removal of overburden, and removal of coal from each seam. Trucks then transport the coal to a load-out facility where it is then hauled by over-the-road trucks to supply area utility plants.

Solar Sources #2 Mine currently employs 43 persons. The mine produces coal on two production shifts. The mine routinely operates four days per week with each shift averaging ten hours in duration. The day shift works from 6:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the night shift works from 6:00 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. Maintenance is conducted as scheduled and needed. The mine produces an average of 4,000 raw 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 December 24, 1998.


On Wednesday, February 24, 1999, the dayshift crew, consisting of 18 employees, arrived at the mine for the regularly scheduled production shift at 6:00 a.m. Douglas M. Ubelhor, Shift Supervisor, arrived at approximately 4:45 a.m., and reviewed the daily examination records and found that the night shift had not produced coal. Ubelhor then examined the work area including the highwall. A portable lighting unit was used to illuminate the pit area. He determined that no hazards existed and assigned the employees their duties. In addition to Ubelhor's supervisory duties, he also operated a bulldozer. Ubelhor had one year and seven months experience as a mine foreman.

Work activities began at 6:00 a.m. Shortly thereafter, Ronald Davis, Jr., Highwall Drill Operator, and Charles R. Baum, Shooter, loaded the explosives-truck and traveled to the No. 62 Cut Drill Bench of Pit 001. Davis began drilling the blast holes in accordance with the shot pattern, which he continued until the time of the accident. Baum loaded and wired blast holes that were approximately 40 feet in depth. At approximately 2:30 p.m., Baum returned to the explosive storage bin and loaded the truck for the second time. He then proceeded back to the No. 62 Drill Bench and continued loading and wiring blast holes. Sometime after 2:30 p.m., Ubelhor was operating a Model D9L Caterpillar bulldozer in an adjacent area of the No. 62 Drill Bench. He stated he observed nothing unusual or any hazardous conditions associated with the highwall at this time. Davis was drilling the remaining holes at this time. At approximately 4:30 p.m., Davis was drilling the last hole in the drill pattern. This hole was located approximately 22 feet from the highwall. Davis exited the cab of the highwall drill to mark the location of the end of the shot pattern. As Davis was walking toward the highwall, a section of shale fell from the highwall partially covering him.

Baum was approximately 50 feet away from the drill when he heard the sound of falling rock. As he turned around to face the highwall, he did not see Davis in the drill cab, so he immediately went to the drill's location. At this time, Baum discovered Davis between the drill and highwall. He immediately traveled to the powder truck and radioed for help and then returned to the drill. He then began removing rock from Davis, who was unresponsive. Phillip Lutgring, Bulldozer Operator, and Ubelhor heard Baum's call for help and immediately drove to the accident scene to assist in removing rock covering the victim. Lutgring, after assessing the need for an ambulance, traveled to the top of the entrance road and used a cellular phone to call Jamie Williams at Solar Sources, Inc.'s main office in Petersburg, Indiana. At 4:33 p.m., Williams notified Pike County Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Baum stayed with the victim. One miner was assigned to watch the highwall for additional falling rock.

The Pike County EMS arrived at the scene at 4:46 p.m. Davis' vital signs were checked, but none were detected. The victim was transported to the ambulance by pickup truck to await the coroner's arrival. Lowry Cooper, Chief Deputy Coroner of Pike County, arrived and determined the time of death to be approximately 4:33 p.m. The victim was then taken to Harris Funeral Home in Petersburg, Indiana.


An investigation of the accident began at approximately 6:55 p.m., February 24, 1999. MSHA personnel traveled to the mine site, met with mine officials, and then traveled to the accident scene. A 103(k) order was issued to ensure the safety of the miners and the area was photographed, sketched, and pertinent measurements were taken and an account of the accident details was obtained. Preliminary data regarding the victim was obtained and a schedule for interviewing was established. Interviews of one miner and two members of mine management were conducted on February 25, 1999.


The investigation revealed the following factors regarding the accident:

1. There were no known eyewitnesses to the material falling from the highwall. Charles Baum, shooter, was loading a drill hole approximately 50 feet west of the drill and heard what he described as a, "thud of rock."

2. In the area of the accident, there were three coal seams being mined. The top coal seam, the Indiana No. 6, is located at the top of this highwall, averaged about two feet in thickness, and had only a few feet of overburden. Much of the overburden had been removed from the No. 6 Seam over the area of the rockfall, but the coal was yet to be removed. The second coal seam being mined was the Indiana No. 5B Seam. The No. 5B Seam, approximately one foot in thickness, had been removed at the bench level on which the drill was located at the time of the accident. The purpose of the drilling was to excavate the material down to the level of the next coal seam to be mined, being the Indiana No. 5 Seam. The No. 5 Coal Seam averaged five feet in thickness.

3. The failure occurred on the east highwall face near the southern end of the 001 Pit. The total volume of the failed rock was estimated at approximately seven cubic yards. The highwall was approximately 74 feet in height at the location of the accident. The highwall consisted of approximately five feet of black shale near the top of the wall, followed by 25 feet of gray shale, 20 feet of gray sandstone, 20 feet of brownish gray sandstone, approximately two feet of gray shale, and finally the No. 5B Coal Seam, located at the bottom of this highwall (the level of the drill).

4. There were two pronounced faults in the rock. One was immediately above the 20-foot bed of brownish gray sandstone, and one was above the 20-foot bed of gray sandstone. Both faults were inclined at an angle of approximately 25o from the horizontal. There are also multiple, smaller, more-random faults and fractures throughout this highwall. The faults and fracture planes resulted in several possible locations in the highwall from which rock might have fallen.

5. The exact height or location from which the subject rock failed could not be determined. However, the failed rock did appear to be consistent with the gray shale, approximately 45 to 65 feet above the level upon which the victim had been working.

6. The highwall had been reportedly scaled with bulldozers and a Hitachi excavator, removing loose material after each shot before the next lift. In the area of the accident, the highwall was being drilled and blasted in three lifts. The victim was drilling the third and final lift at the time of the accident.

7. The drill-hole pattern, which the victim was utilizing at the time of the accident, consisted of seven rows of holes extending out from the base of the highwall. The total pattern had 49 drill-holes, or seven rows and seven columns of holes. The victim was drilling the final hole in this pattern at the time of the accident. The first row of holes was drilled approximately four feet out from the toe of the highwall. This row was placed as close to the highwall as possible to keep the highwall as vertical as possible after the shot. The shot was designed to pre split the rock. This was accomplished by reducing the charge in the row of holes closest to the highwall and shooting these holes first. This results in less blast energy being transferred to the highwall behind the shot. The wall was drilled and blasted near vertical and no benches were left. At the time of the accident, the drill was over the second drill-hole away from the highwall, approximately 22 feet from the toe of the highwall, in the row farthest toward the south

8. The normal practice at this operation was for the driller to mark the highwall with a can of spray paint at the location of the final row of holes drilled in each pattern. This marking was used to aid in drill-hole spacing for the next pattern, to be drilled after the shot had been put off and the broken rock removed. The victim is believed to have been in the process of walking toward the highwall to mark it when the rock failed. A can of orange spray paint was found within the failed rock rubble, near the victim.

9. The ground control plan was filed and acknowledged on September 4, 1980, by MSHA and became a matter of record. This plan did not contain additional precautions to be taken when adverse mining conditions were encountered and only the mining of the Indiana No. 5 Coal Seam was addressed.

10. A safety berm was located at the top of the highwall.

11. The weather on the day of the accident was cloudy with the temperature in the 40-degree range and with a light snow having fallen the night before.

12. The highwall drill, being operated by the victim, was Company No. 1064 and was a Gardner Denver Model GDCL-45 DR-11 (Serial # 45066). At the time of the accident the drill was positioned nearly parallel to the highwall with the cab facing east toward the highwall. At the boom end the drill was 20 feet from the highwall and the other end was 17 feet from the highwall.

13. Auger or highwall mining had not been performed in this area.

14. The cab of the highwall drill was not an environmental-type cab, and was not designed for falling object protection.

15. According to the records reviewed, the victim had received all the training required by 30 CFR, Part 48, prior to the accident.

16. The onshift examination conducted at the No. 62 Cut Drill Bench of Pit 001 was deemed inadequate because it failed to recognize that the fractured and faulted nature of the rock in the highwall, along with the potentially destabilizing forces created by energy associated with blasting the pit overburden, had resulted in an unstable ground condition.

17. The investigation revealed that an adjacent mine blast in excess of one mile away, blasted overburden at 4:38 p.m. Pike County Emergency Medical Service records indicated they were notified of the accident at 4:33 p.m. The shot fired at the adjacent mine, therefore, was not a factor.

18. The death certificate listed the cause of death to be, "multiple blunt force crushing injuries," as a result of falling stone.


The accident occurred because the fractured and faulty nature of the highwall and the potentially destabilizing forces caused by overburden blasting in this pit directly contributed to the fall of rock from the highwall. Benches or other means were not utilized to reduce the hazards associated with abnormal highwalls, which increased the likelihood that miners could be injured. The practice of exposing the drill operator to the highwall to mark the last row of holes was also a contributing factor to the accident.


1. A 103 (k) order (No. 7570318) was issued on February 24, 1999, to Solar Sources, Inc., Solar #2 Mine, to ensure the safety of the miners working in the area.

2. A 104 (a) citation (No. 7562911) was issued on March 23, 1999, to Solar Sources, Inc., Solar #2 Mine, for a violation of 30 CFR . 77.1713(a). An adequate onshift examination for hazardous conditions had not been made for the highwall located above the No. 62 Cut in the 001 Pit. The certified person performing the examination failed to recognize that the fractured and faulted nature of the rock in the highwall, along with the potentially destabilizing forces created by energy associated with blasting the pit overburden, had resulted in an unstable ground condition. Rock fell from this face, resulting in a fatal accident.

3. A 104 (a) citation (No. 7562912) was issued on March 23, 1999, to Solar Sources, Inc., Solar #2 Mine, for a violation of 30 CFR . 77.1004(b). An unsafe ground condition existed on 001 Pit's highwall near the south end of the No. 62 Cut and it had not been corrected promptly, nor was the area posted. Unconsolidated gray shale rock fell from the face of the highwall and resulted in a fatal accident.

4. A 104 (a) citation (No. 756213) was issued on March 23, 1999, to Solar Sources, Inc., Solar #2 Mine, for a violation of 30 CFR . 77.1000. The mine operator's ground control plan was not consistent with prudent engineering design. The highwall in the 001 Pit at the Cut 62 was of a fractured and faulty nature and a bench or other means was not used to reduce the likelihood of rock falling from the face of the highwall.


Michael E. Pike
Mine Safety and Health Specialist
Wilbur C. Deuel
Mine Safety and Health Specialist

David L. Whitcomb
Assistant District Manager

James K. Oakes
District Manager

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