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District 6

(Underground Coal Mine)


TUSCARORA MINE (I.D. NO. 15-17913)

MARCH 4, 1999




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


The Matrix Coal Company, Tuscarora Mine, is located 3/4 mile East off U.S. Route 23 near Betsy Layne, Floyd County, Kentucky. The company officials include: Coy Lane, president, John Swiney, operation's manager, and Stewart Bailey, superintendent. Matrix Coal Company is a subsidiary of Shipyard River Coal Terminal, Inc. Pike County Coal Company is the managing company for Matrix Coal Company. The Elkhorn No. 3 coal seam which varies from 60 inches to 80 inches in thickness is entered through three drift openings. The room and pillar method of mining is employed to develop a series of panels, up to 10 entries wide, with entries and crosscuts advanced on 55-foot by 60-foot centers and maximum opening widths of 20 feet. The mine consists of one section(001-0 MMU) utilizing two Joy 15 CM continuous mining machines, three Joy shuttle cars, two Fletcher DDO-15, twin-head roof bolting machines and two Long-Airdox Model 488, battery-powered scoops. The continuous mining machines are used to cut the coal, with cut depths limited to a maximum of 20 feet.

The mine currently employs 36 persons on two production and one maintenance shift per day. The mine operates six days-per-week and produces an average of 1600 tons of coal per day.

The immediate mine roof consists of up to 8 feet of finely laminated gray shale followed by a 12-inch to 27-inch layer of cannel coal that is overlain by approximately 50 feet of a firm sandy shale. The remaining overburden is composed of various sequences of shale, sandy shale, sandstone, and coal layers. A 55-foot thick shale formation comprises the mine floor. Total depth of cover ranges from less than 100 feet in stream valleys to approximately 525 feet along intervening ridgelines.

Roof support is provided by mechanically anchored roof bolts (42-inch minimum length) or fully grouted, No. 5, Grade 60, rebar (60-inch minimum length), depending upon local conditions. Roof bolts are installed on a 4-foot by 4-foot maximum pattern.

A regular Safety and Health Inspection (AAA) was ongoing at the time of the accident.


At 3:30 PM, on March 4, 1999, Gary Sawyers, section foreman, and his second shift crew entered the mine via a Wallace rubber-tired diesel personnel carrier, traveled to the working section (001-0 MMU), and began their assigned duties. At approximately 5:25 PM, Sawyers traveled into the 2-Right crosscut to observe the twin-head Fletcher roof bolting crew. The right side operator, Johnny Stiltner, stated that Sawyers assisted him by completing the assembly of two resin bolts. Sawyers then traveled past Stiltner, in front of the automated temporary roof support (ATRS), into an area of unsupported roof, and walked toward the left side operator, Ronald Estepp. A portion of mine roof measuring ten and one half feet in width, eight feet in length, and nine inches in thickness, fell striking Sawyers. Witnessing the accident, both Stiltner and Estepp rushed to assist and removed the fallen mine roof from Sawyers by hand. The roof, upon striking Sawyers and the mine floor, had broken into smaller pieces. Sawyers was transported to the back of the roof bolter and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation(CPR) was administered by Johnny Damron, roof bolter operator. Sawyers was brought to the surface on the diesel personnel carrier, and transported via ambulance to Highlands Regional Medical Center in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. After an examination revealed no life signs, Roger Nelson, Floyd County Coroner, pronounced Sawyers dead on arrival at 6:09 PM, as a result of crushing injuries to the neck and chest areas.


At approximately 6:05 PM, on March 4, 1999, Anthony Webb, staff assistant of MSHA's District office, Pikeville, Kentucky, was notified by John Swiney, operation's manager, that a serious accident had occurred. Upon the arrival of the MSHA accident investigation team, a 103(k) Order was issued to ensure the safety of the miners until an investigation could be conducted. MSHA and the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals jointly conducted the investigation with the assistance of mine management and the miners. The miners did not request nor have representation during the investigation.


  1. The immediate mine roof consists of up to 8 feet in thickness of finely laminated grey shale followed by a 12 inch to 27 inch thick layer of cannel coal, overlain by about 50 feet of a firm sandy shale.

  2. Sixty-inch, fully grouted, No. 5, grade-60, rebar bolts are used on this section in conjunction with eight-inch by eight- inch plates.

  3. The roof fall occurred during the roof bolting cycle in the advancing crosscut that would connect the numbers 2 and 3 rooms advanced to the right of the 001 working section. The fall was trapezoidal in shape, roughly 10.5 feet long, varied in width from 32 inches to 8 feet, and was about 9 inches thick. The initial fall was located just inby the 10.5 feet long ATRS bar of the Fletcher DDO-15-CD bolting machine. Subsequently, immediate roof material, ranging from 2 inches to 12 inches thick, fell from nearly the entire unsupported cut.

  4. Overall, roof conditions in the rooms and outby mains were stable, with little or no roof deterioration evident in supported areas and no signs of significant pillar stress (spalling).

  5. The approved roof control plan was not being followed. The approved plan limits cut depths to a maximum of 20 feet. An extended cut measured at 29 feet in length was being supported at the time of the accident. Two other extended cuts were measured in the area; one 25 feet in depth and one 23 feet, 3 inches in depth.

  6. According to the statements of Ronald Estepp and Johnny Stiltner, roof bolter operators, and eyewitnesses to the accident, the victim had traveled inby permanent roof support at the time of the accident.

  7. According to records of the mine operator which were examined, the victim had all training required by 30 CFR, Part 48, at the time of the accident.


The accident occurred because the foreman (victim) traveled inby permanent roof supports into an area of unsupported roof while assisting the roof bolting crew . A contributing factor to the instability of the mine roof was the extended depth of the mining cuts being taken in the 2 Right crosscut.


  1. A 103(k) Order, No. 4031244, was issued to ensure the safety of the miners until an investigation could be conducted.

  2. A 104(d)(1) Citation, No. 7358604, was issued for a violation of Title 30, Part 75.202(b), which prohibits persons traveling under unsupported roof.

  3. A 104(d)(1) Order, No. 7358605, was issued for a violation of Title 30, Part 75.220(a)(1), as a result of the mine operator's failure to comply with the approved roof control plan. Three extended cuts in depths in excess of that specified in the approved plan were observed in the No. 2 Right crosscut, the crosscut between No. 1 and No. 2 Entries, and the No. 9 Entry. The approved plan limits cut depths to a maximum of 20 feet.

Submitted by:

Garey L. Farmer
Coal Mine Safety & Health Inspector

Harold Yates
Roof Control Specialist

Approved by:

Carl E. Boone, II
District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB99C06