Skip to content

District 4


Fatal Fall of Roof Accident

Upper Big Branch Mine-South (I.D. No. 46-08436)
Performance Coal Company
Naoma, Raleigh County, West Virginia

March 29, 2001


James Cabe
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Roger Richmond
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
100 Bluestone Road, Mount Hope, West Virginia 25880
Edwin P. Brady, District Manager

Release Date: August 1, 2001


On March 29, 2001, at approximately 11:50 A.M., Herbert J. Meadows, a 48 year old, Continuous Mining Machine Operator, was fatally injured when he was struck by falling rock on a retreat pillar mining section. He died of his injuries on March 31, 2001. At the time of the accident the victim was standing at the rear of a scoop, waiting for timbers to be set, so mining could be started again. The rock, which fell in the 3-way intersection located between number two and three entries, was measured to be 9.5 feet by 10 feet and ranged from 0 to 12 inches thick. The accident site had been previously roof bolted with 48" fully grouted roof bolts. Five bolts were found to have been sheared or broken from a lateral shift of the roof.


Performance Coal Company, Upper Big Branch Mine-South, MSHA I.D. No. 46-08436, is located near Naoma, Raleigh County, West Virginia. The mine is accessed by 19 drifts and 2 shafts into the Eagle Coal Seam. The coal seam averages 65 inches in thickness and the maximum overburden on the mine is 1,300 feet. The total mining height at the accident site was approximately 88 inches.

Employment is provided for 147 underground and 3 surface employees. The mine operates 2 producing shifts per day, 6 days per week, producing 9,000 tons of raw coal per day from 3 continuous mining machine units and one long wall unit. Coal is transported from the continuous miner at the face to the section dumping point with shuttle cars. Belt conveyors transport the coal from the long wall and miner section dumping points to the surface. A track haulage system is used to transport supplies, materials, equipment and employees into and out of the mine.

The mine is ventilated by 5 main mine fans (3 blowing and 2 exhausting). The mine liberates approximately 2,275,000 cubic feet of methane per 24 hours. During development, face areas are ventilated using both blowing and exhausting line curtain and continuous mining machines equipped with scrubbers.

The roof control plan in effect at the time of the accident was approved by the Mine Safety and Health Administration on December 19, 2000. The immediate mine roof consists of gray shale and sandstone. The main roof is 40 to 50 feet of sandstone.

The principal officers for Upper Big Branch Mine-South are: President-Cary Harwood Hazy Superintendent-Homer Wallace Vice president of Operations-Eddie Lester Safety Director-George Nelson

The last AAA inspection was completed on March 22, 2001. The Non-Fatal Days Lost, (NFDL), incident rate during the previous quarter was (7.18) for underground mines nationwide and (5.09) for this mine.


On Thursday, March 29, 2001, at approximately 7:00 A.M., the nine man day shift crew for the Hazy Section, under the supervision of Rudy Toney, Section Foreman, entered the mine via the track drift opening located at the Hazy Portal and traveled to the Hazy Section (MMU 012) to produce coal.

According to statements, upon arrival at the working section the roof control plan was reviewed and job assignments were made. The Hazy Section had been retreat mining for about 1,100 feet, with the use of a Joy Continuous Miner, (4) Fletcher Mobile Roof Supports, (2) Fletcher Roof Bolt Machines, (1) Long Airdox Scoop and (3) Joy Shuttle Cars.

Herbert Meadows, victim and Continuous Mining Machine Operator, along with the Miner Helper, Joe Ferrell, and Shuttle Car Operators, Tommy Collins and Curtis Jarrell, started mining the right wing of the number one pillar (pillars are numbered right to left). After completing mining of the right wing the continuous miner was moved to the left wing of the number 1 pillar, but because the top began working and was unstable in that area the decision was made not to mine there. The continuous miner was then moved across the section to begin mining the number 3 pillar. The crew removed a 26-foot coal cut from the pillar block.

A bolting machine was then brought to the 3-way intersection just created and two 8 foot test holes were drilled in the intersection to determine the composition of the roof strata. The bolt crew proceeded to bolt the unsupported top with 4 foot fully grouted bolts. The foreman sent the miner and shuttle car crews to move the distribution box, which serviced the mobile roof supports, back from the pillar line, and hang their trailing cables while the roof was being supported.

Toney and the scoop operator, James Dickens set eight breaker timbers in the number 2 entry at the outby end of number 3 pillar because about 2 � feet of roof rock had fallen about 40 feet outby the pillar line. After the number three pillar split was bolted, the roof bolt machine was moved outby and the scoop carrying timbers was moved bucket first toward the number three entry side of the three pillar, where breaker timbers were to be installed.

At approximately 11:50 A.M., Meadows walked near the rear of the scoop which was located at the 3-way intersection of the pillar split. He asked Toney if he was ready for mining to resume. Toney told Meadows eight breaker timbers needed to be set first. Immediately after responding, Toney observed rock begin to fall on Meadows. Toney immediately started toward Meadows but became bound by rock that had fallen on and arround his feet. Dickens, Collins, and Jarrell, freed Toney and began working to free the victim. It took the entire crew to lift the rock and pull Meadows from under it. He was given first aid and oxygen then placed on a stretcher and transported to the surface.

Whitesville Ambulance Service transported the victim to Health Net, who took the victim to Charleston Area Medical Center, where he died of his injuries on March 31, 2001.


The Mine Safety and Health Administration was notified at 1:30 P.M., March 29, 2001, that a serious accident had occurred and stated to be non life threatening by the operator. MSHA Accident Investigators were notified and dispatched to the mine. A 103(K) Order was issued to ensure the safety of the miners until an accident investigation could be conducted. The investigation proceeded in conjunction with the West Virginia Office of Miner's Health, Safety and Training (WVMHST) with the assistance of the operator and their employees. A list of those persons who participated in the investigation can be found in Appendix A of this report.

A pre-investigation conference was conducted by MSHA personnel upon arrival at the Upper Big Branch Mine-South (Hazy Portal Mine Office). Preliminary interviews with persons who had knowledge of the accident were conducted on the surface at the mine office.

Representatives of MSHA, WVMHST, and the operator then traveled to the underground accident scene, where a thorough investigation of physical conditions at the accident area was conducted by the investigating team. Photographs (see Appendix B), video recording, and relevant measurements were taken. Sketches were also made of the accident site.

Formal interviews were conducted with persons who had knowledge of the accident on April 2, 2001, in the conference room of the Performance Training Center located at Montcoal, West Virginia. The investigation also included a review of training records and the records of other required examinations. The physical portion of the investigation was completed on March 30, 2001, and the 103(K) Order was terminated.


A review of the training records indicated that training had been conducted in accordance with 30 CFR Part 48. Records of examinations indicate that the required examinations had been conducted in accordance with 30 CFR Part 75.

Physical Factors

The accident occurred on the Hazy Section (MMU 012-00). Retreat mining was being conducted on a 5 entry, 4 pillar system. The entries had been developed on 80 foot centers with crosscuts on 110 foot centers.

The approved roof control plan specifies that fully grouted resin bolts with a minimum length of 36 inches could be installed in solid-sandstone roof only. The minimum length of all other bolts is to be 48 inches. The bolts are to be installed in a 5 feet wide by 4 to 5 feet long pattern.

The mine roof in the area where the accident occurred was supported with 48-inch fully grouted resin roof bolts with 6-inch by 6-inch bearing plates as the primary roof support. Roof bolts were installed on approximately four feet crosswise and four feet lengthwise spacing. No significant pillar deterioration was noted on the section.

An on-shift examination of the Hazy Section (MMU 012-0) had been conducted and no hazards were noted.

The crew had mined one cut from the number 3 pillar split which measured 26 feet deep and was preparing to mine a second cut from this split.

The last contact with the victim prior to the accident was made by the section foreman, who was also an eye witness to the roof fall.

At the accident site, the entry height was approximately 88 inches with the immediate roof being gray shale. The rock that fell on the victim was composed of gray shale, and measured approximately 9.5 feet by 10 feet by no more than 1 foot thick. The accident area was supported in accordance with the approved roof control plan.

The investigation of the accident scene revealed that an apparent lateral shift in the roof strata had occurred at a horizon approximately 6 to 10 inches up into the immediate roof. Additionally, five, 48 inch fully grouted resin bolts were sheared or broken.

Examination of an open test hole in the first intersection outby the pillar line in the number 1 entry of the affected section revealed evidence of lateral movement of roof strata at approximately the same horizon as the apparent movement in the area of the fall.

Examinations of the pillar line and statements from section personnel indicated that pillar wings or portions of pillar wings were sometimes not mined due to adverse roof conditions. This can result in a transfer of weight that may cause differential movement of mine roof strata.


The accident occurred due to the shearing and breaking of five 48" fully grouted resin bolts which allowed the roof to fall without warning. It is believed that differential lateral movement of strata in the mine roof caused the bolts to shear and break.


A 103(k) order number 4715795, was issued to ensure the safety of all persons of the Hazy Section, until an investigation could be completed and the area deemed safe for entry.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB01C05


Listed below are the persons furnishing information and/or present during the investigation:

Performance Coal Company Officials
Cary Harwood ............... President
Eddie Lester ............... Vice President of Operations
Homer Wallace ............... Superintendent
George Nelson ............... Safety Director
Barry Hale ............... Vice President of Operations (Massey)
David Hardy ............... Attorney (Representing Performance Coal Co.)
*Donald Kelly ............... Mine Foreman
*Rudy Toney ............... Section Foreman
Kenneth Bailey ............... Section Foreman
Upper Big Branch Mine-South Employees
*Frank Ratcliff ............... Roof Bolting Machine Operator
*John Dickens ............... Roof Bolting Machine Operator
*Tommy Collins ............... Shuttle Car Operator
*Curtis Jarrell ............... Shuttle Car Operator
*Danny Ferrell ............... Miner Operator/Helper
*James Dickens ............... Scoop Operator
*Larry Brown ............... Electrician
*Employees interviewed

West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training
Terry Farley ............... Office of the Director
Gary Snyder ............... Supervisor
William Tucker ............... Supervisor
Gerald Pauley ............... District Inspector
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Roger Richmond ............... Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
James Cabe ............... Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Kirk Harmon ............... Education Field Service
Fred Wills ............... Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Charles Cline ............... Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector (Roof Control)