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District 4




April 12, 2001


Michael G. Kalich
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector (Electrical)

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

Release Date: April 12, 2001


On Thursday, April 12, 2001, a 50-year-old mining machine operator with 22 years experience received fatal crushing injuries when he was caught between the tail boom of the miner and the coal rib. The victim had trammed the No. 176 Joy 12CM27 continuous miner from the No. 4 entry towards the No. 5 entry to pull up slack cable and was in the process of removing the excess cable from the miner boom. The ripper head of the No. 176 miner extended into the No. 5 entry. The No. 181 Joy 12CM27 continuous miner was trammed up the No. 5 entry where it struck the ripper head of the No. 176 miner causing the tail boom to swing, catching the victim between the boom and the coal rib.


The Whites Branch mine, operated by Pine Ridge Coal Company, is located near Gordon, Boone County, West Virginia. The single super-section mine is developed into the Coalburg seam through four drift openings. The mine opened in December 2000. The coal seam thickness averages 84 inches. Approximately 3,400 tons of raw coal are produced daily on two production and one maintenance shift by 51 employees. The mining method used is room and pillar with coal extraction utilizing two continuous miners, four battery coal haulers, and belt conveyors. The blowing mine ventilation fan produces 200,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm). There is 48,000 cubic feet of methane liberation each 24 hours.

Mine officials for Pine Ridge Coal Company are as follows: J. Nemec, President; T. L. Bethel, Vice President and Treasurer; T. R. Gallagher, Secretary; Jesse Justice, Operations Manager; Dave Ashby, Manager of Safety and Training; and, Harvey Ferrell, Safety Supervisor.

A quarterly AAA inspection was ongoing at the time of the accident. The previous AAA was completed on March 23, 2001.


On Thursday, April 12, 2001, the afternoon shift production crew, under the direction of section foreman, Bert Nunley, entered the mine at 3:30 p.m. The afternoon crew hot seat changes with the day shift. The No. 181 continuous miner was loading coal in the No. 5 entry and the No. 176 continuous miner had finished a cut in the No. 1 entry. Since the section is provided with only one split of ventilating air, only one continuous miner cuts coal while the other continuous miner is moved and set up for the next cut.

Roger Watson, operator of the No. 181 continuous miner, finished the remaining cut in the No. 5 entry and backed the miner down the No. 5 entry past the 0242 intersection. The roof bolting machine finished installing two rows of bolts in the No. 6 entry, then entered the No. 5 entry and began installing roof bolts.

During this time Nunley had examined the faces and directed Watson to setup the No. 181 miner in the No. 8 entry. Nunley had also directed Alvis Mitchem, victim, to setup the No. 176 miner in the No. 4 entry. The No. 176 miner had been loading out rock in the No. 1 entry and was being cleaned off at the start of the shift.

Mitchem began to tram the No. 176 miner through the cross cut toward the No. 4 entry at approximately 4:10 p.m. This was about the same time Watson backed the No. 181 miner out of the completed cut in the No. 5 entry.

Nunley was standing in the No. 3 entry intersection watching the cable for the No. 176 miner. Mitchem was pulling up slack cable and had trammed the miner toward the No. 5 entry intersection. The head of the No. 176 miner was in the No. 5 entry intersection when the slack cable was pulled up. Mitchem had stopped tramming the No. 176 miner and moved to the area between the boom and the right rib where a loop of cable was attached to the miner boom. Nunley stated that he saw the No. 181 miner enter the No. 5 intersection. He then saw that Mitchem had been pinned between the boom of the No. 176 miner and the rib. Nunley ran to the No. 5 entry intersection and shouted for Watson to back up the No. 181 miner and that Mitchem was pinned and needed help. Watson and Joel Varney, miner helper, tried to use Mitchem's remote control box to move the No. 176 miner but could not operate the controls because it was pinned with Mitchem. Watson determined that the remote box was de-energized. Since they were unable to tram the No. 176 miner, Watson called for the roof bolting machine in the No. 5 entry to back out and push the head of the No. 176 miner, which would cause the boom to move away from the rib and free Mitchem.

Varney ran to the roof bolting machine and had James Goode, roof bolting machine operator, back the bolter down the No. 5 entry and push the head of the No. 176 miner. This freed Mitchem, who was unconscious but still breathing.

Kenneth Bibb, roof bolter and emergency medical technician, assisted by Nunley and Goode, administered first aid to the victim, secured him to a stretcher, and immediately transported him to the surface by rubber-tired battery mantrip. The Boone County Ambulance Service transported the victim to the Van High School where he was transferred to Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC) by Life Flight helicopter. The victim was pronounced dead upon arrival at 6:07 p.m. by a physician. The medical examiner determined that the victim died from mechanical asphyxia caused by crushing injuries to the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was notified of the accident by Donnie Pauley, safety inspector, at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, April 12, 2001. MSHA personnel and representatives of the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training immediately traveled to the mine and jointly conducted the investigation. A 103(k) order was issued to ensure the safety of all persons until completion of the investigation.

Photographs, sketches, audio/video recordings, and an engineering survey of the area of the accident were made. Interviews of persons considered to have knowledge of the facts surrounding the accident were conducted on April 13. The on-site portion of the investigation was completed and the 103(k) order terminated on April 14, 2001.



Training records were reviewed and all required training was found to be up to date.

Physical Factors

1. The 2 West Mains section was an eight-entry development section, utilizing a single split, blowing-ventilation system. Mining height in the area of the accident was approximately 102 inches.

2. The No. 176 and No. 181 continuous miners were both Joy 12CM27, 2,300-volt machines, equipped with Joy radio-remote controls, Model 205-376. The continuous miners did not have decks or on-board controls. These miners are large, and visibility while tramming is obstructed.

3. Both continuous miners and their remote-control transmitters were tested and found to be operating properly. Testing was also conducted to determine if any signal interference existed between the two continuous miners and none was found.

4. The tram controls on the remote control box for the No. 176 miner were found to be in the "off" position and the remote control box was de-energized.

5. Bit marks and scrapes were found on the bit rings of the No. 176 miner that matched bit configuration on the No. 181 miner. Also, cat pad tracks observed on the mine floor indicated movement of the No. 181 miner into the No. 5 entry intersection that was consistent with the No. 181 miner striking the No. 176 miner.

6. The normal operating sequence for this mine is for the No. 176 continuous miner to cut the No. 1, 2, 3, and 4 entries, and the No. 181 continuous miner to cut the No. 5, 6, 7, and 8 entries. Procedurally, as one miner is cutting coal the other miner is trammed and set up to make the next cut.

7. When the accident occurred, the normal sequence had been interrupted due to the rock that was cut in the No. 1 entry.

8. Investigators found that the required weekly electrical examinations were up to date and no hazards had been listed in the record book.

9. Records indicated the daily pre-shift and on-shift examinations had been made and the records were up to date.


The accident was caused by a confluence of factors that included the routine movement of equipment being interrupted, the failure to verify that the proposed route of travel was clear, and a lack of adequate communication about equipment movements. These things collectively contributed to the accident.


A 103(k) Order, No. 7195702, was issued to Pine Ridge Coal Company to ensure the safety of the miners until the investigation could be completed.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB01C06


The following persons were interviewed, provided information, and/or were present during the investigation:

Pine Ridge Coal Company
J. R. King ............... Mine Manager
Dave Ashby ............... Manager of Safety
Jesse Justice ............... Operations Manager
Terry Hudson ............... Director of Safety
Ronnie Harless ............... Maintenance Manager
Jerry Jones ............... Chief Electrician
Donald Pauley ............... Safety Supervisor
Harvey Ferrell ............... Safety Supervisor
Mike Elkins ............... Assistant Mine Manager
*Burt Nunley ............... Section Foreman
*Roger Watson ............... Continuous Miner Operator
*Joel Varney ............... Continuous Miner Operator Helper
*James Goode ............... Roof Bolter Operator
*Kenneth Bibb ............... Roof Bolter Operator
*Bob Thurmond ............... Continuous Miner Operator
Mark Heath ............... Attorney-at-Law, Heenan, Althen & Roles
*Indicates persons interviewed

United Mine Workers of America
T. C. Halstead ............... Safety Committee
Clyde Nelson ............... Safety Committee
D. Estep ............... President, Local 8377
West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training
Harry Linville ............... Inspector-at-Large
Terry Farley ............... Health and Safety Administrator
Joe Atha ............... Electrical Inspector
Eugene White ............... District Mine Inspector
William Bentley ............... District Mine Inspector
Mine Safety and Health Administration
M. G. Kalich ............... Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector (Electrical/AI)
Sharon Cook ............... EFS Specialist
John Brown ............... Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
David Sturgill ............... Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Don Ellis ............... Supervisory Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Terry Price ............... Supervisory Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector