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Surface Coal Mine

Fatal Ignition or Explosion Accident
June 8, 2010

Taft Coal Sales & Associates, Inc.
Choctaw Mine
Parrish, Walker County, Alabama
ID No. 01-00347

Accident Investigators

James Brodeur
Surface Safety and Health Inspector
William Harbin
Surface Safety and Health Inspector

Derrick Tjernlund, PE
Senior Fire Protection Engineer
Mine Safety and Health Technical Support
Mechanical & Engineering Safety Division

Eugene D. Hennen, PE
Senior Mechanical Engineer
Mine Safety and Health Technical Support
Mechanical & Engineering Safety Division

Originating Office
Mine Safety and Health Administration
District 11
135 Gemini Circle, Suite 213
Birmingham, Alabama 35209
Richard A. Gates, District Manager


On Tuesday, June 8, 2010, at approximately 9:25 p.m., a 38-year old service truck operator was killed while fueling a highwall rock drill. The victim notified the drill operator by CB radio that he was driving down to fuel the two drills operating on the highwall bench. The operator moved his drill into position to be fueled and idled down the drill engine. The victim backed the service truck perpendicular to the operator's side of the drill and was observed by the drill operator stepping over the back of the truck onto the drill while holding the fuel hose and nozzle. The drill operator looked away from the victim and felt what he described as a concussion/explosion. The operator exited the drill cab and observed that the drill was on fire and the victim was lying on the ground engulfed in flames. The drill operator called for help and other mine personnel responded to help extinguish the fire on the victim. The victim was transported to the mine entrance gate where medical personnel arrived shortly thereafter. The victim was transported by LifeSaver helicopter to a nearby hospital and died shortly after arrival.

The accident occurred because the work practices/procedures in use at the time of the accident were not adequate to fully protect the service truck operator. There was no provision for equipment shutoff/cool down prior to fueling, the operator was required to be in close proximity to potential ignition sources, the fueling system was susceptible to accidental discharge, and there was no provision for actions to be taken in the event of an accidental fuel discharge.


On the night of the accident, Tuesday, June 8, 2010, two service truck operators, Phillip Wade Gustafson (victim) and Adam Moon, were on duty for the evening shift.  As normal, the highwall rock drills were fueled at the beginning of the shift.  The rock drill involved in the accident, Reed SK45 Highwall Drill, Company No. 515, was fueled by Moon.  After fueling their assigned pieces of equipment, both service truck operators performed maintenance work on other equipment.  After completing the maintenance work, both service truck operators prepared to continue fueling equipment.
At approximately 9:00 p.m., the victim refueled the water truck and traveled to refuel the two drills operating on the Choctaw West Pit bench.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., Gustafson notified Jonathan Boshell, operator of the No. 515 drill, by CB radio that he was driving onto the bench to fuel the two rock drills.  Boshell informed Gustafson that he would move the drill away from the recently drilled holes to a safe location on the bench.  Boshell positioned the drill, idled down the engine, and then radioed Gustafson to back the service truck up to the drill.  Boshell started to eat his dinner while Gustafson backed the truck up to within approximately two feet of the right hand side (drill operator cab side) of the drill (Appendix B).  Boshell observed Gustafson stepping over from the back of the service truck and onto the drill while holding the fuel hose and nozzle.  Boshell looked away and continued eating when he heard an explosion and felt the concussion (Boshell estimated that only seconds passed from when he observed the victim stepping onto the drill and the explosion).  Boshell immediately exited the drill cab and saw the drill on fire and Gustafson engulfed in flames, rolling on the ground under the rear of the service truck.  Boshell quickly went back to the cab and radioed for help.   After calling for help, Boshell exited the left side of the cab, located the fire extinguisher, and began extinguishing the flames on the drill, but lost sight of Gustafson. 

Wayne Perry, who was operating the other drill, heard a noise that sounded like a hydraulic hose bursting on his drill.  When Perry looked out of the cab window to locate the suspected ruptured hose, he saw an orange glow coming from Boshell’s drill. Realizing the drill was on fire, Perry quickly shut down his drill, secured a fire extinguisher and ran to the other drill.  Perry began extinguishing the fire on the drill when he heard Gustafson.  He ran around the service truck and, seeing Gustafson on the ground engulfed in flames, told him to close his eyes and mouth and then used the fire extinguisher to put the flames out.  Gustafson stood up and moved away from the drill and truck.  Boshell and Perry attempted to extinguish the fire on the drill with fire extinguishers without success.  Other mine personnel had responded to the accident scene and were giving care to Gustafson.  Gustafson was transported by pick-up truck to the mine entrance gate where he was met by arriving emergency personnel.  Gustafson was air lifted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.  Gustafson’s condition worsened after leaving the mine site and he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at the hospital.  Local fire departments responded to the accident scene and extinguished the fire.


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), was notified of the accident at approximately 9:57 p.m., on Tuesday, June 8, 2010.  The Call Center notified Johnny Calhoun, Coal Mine Safety and Health Supervisor for District 11.  MSHA personnel from the Bessemer Field Office were immediately dispatched and arrived at the mine at approximately 11:00 p.m.  A 103(j) Order was issued verbally and modified to a 103(k) Order upon arrival at the mine, to ensure the safety of all persons during the accident investigation.

The investigation was conducted with the cooperation of MSHA’s Technical Support Division, Alabama Department of Industrial Relations Mining and Reclamation Division, representatives of the mine operator and miners.  Persons participating in the investigation are listed in Appendix A.  Thirteen persons were interviewed during the investigation.


Pre-operational Checks and Maintenance

Pre-operational checks were performed by the evening shift drill operator and the service truck operator (victim) on their respective pieces of equipment.  The written record for the drill was destroyed by the fire.  The drill operator stated that no hazards had been noted.  The written record was retrieved from inside the service truck cab and there were no hazards recorded.


The rock drill (Appendix C) was a Reed SK45/R45-Infinity Highwall Drill (Company No. 515, Serial No. 1Z68A64), powered by a Cummins KTA19-C turbocharged, six-cylinder, 630 hp diesel engine and used hydraulic and air actuated controls for drilling.  The turbocharger was located opposite of where the victim was fueling (Appendix C). 

The drill was equipped with a 320-gallon diesel fuel tank, located directly beneath the engine between the main frame rails and was fueled through a top-fill standard twist-off fuel cap with a 2-inch high filler neck.  (Note: the fuel tank was estimated to have contained approximately 250 gallons of diesel fuel remaining after the fire).  The hydraulic oil tank is located on the right side of the drill, directly in front of the operator cab (Appendix C) and has an approximate usable capacity of 190 gallons, based upon the external dimensions and the location of the top of the sight glass (transparent tube, through which the level of fuel or oil can be observed).  The tank was estimated to have approximately 60 gallons of SAE 10W oil remaining after the fire.  Both tanks were equipped with non-pressurized fluid return lines. 

The electrical system provided was 24-volts DC (direct current).  

The service truck was a Mack DM690S (Company No. 764, VIN: 1M2B209CXRM014359) and was used to dispense diesel fuel and other lubricants from bulk tanks.  The tanks were located on the fabricated open grate steel bed/deck of the truck, along with the associated pumps used to dispense the diesel fuel/lubricants (Appendix C). 

The main hydraulic pump was driven off the truck’s crank shaft and ran while the truck engine was running.  The main pump received hydraulic fluid from a dedicated tank and provided the fluid pressure to the hydraulic motors, which in turn drove the individual transfer pumps.  The transfer pumps move the diesel fuel and other lubricants from the bulk tanks to the equipment.   A valve bank at the rear of the truck controls the transfer pumps.  When the diesel fuel transfer pump was activated, it provided diesel fuel to either a hose reel equipped with a squeeze splash nozzle (similar to a standard service station nozzle), or a hose reel equipped with a Wiggins nozzle.  Diesel fuel could be dispensed by either nozzle.  The truck was also equipped with a Tuthill “Fill-rite” totalizing meter for measuring the quantity of fuel dispensed.

Field Testing/Observation

Testing and observation of the dispensing nozzle, the Tuthill totalizing meter, and the operating and environmental characteristics of the drill were conducted and outlined below.

The original dispensing nozzle was damaged and could not be tested.  The original nozzle was removed from the dispensing hose and a new, identical nozzle was attached.  A flow test was then conducted and the new nozzle dispensed diesel fuel at a rate of approximately 42-gallons per minute, at maximum flow and could discharge a stream of fuel a distance of 4 to 8-feet.

The Tuthill totalizing meter indicated a total flow of 7-gallons of fuel had been dispensed since the last reset of the meter.  Field observation of the meter function indicated that once the fuel transfer pump was engaged, the reading slowly increased even if no fuel was being dispensed.  The meter would increase between 1 and 2-gallons a minute at zero flow, the rate of increase being somewhat erratic.  Approximately 10-seconds would be required to discharge up to 7-gallons of diesel fuel.

The drill involved in the accident had such extensive damage that its engine operating characteristics could not be tested.   A similar drill was tested at idle for comparison and reference.  The following information was obtained: