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Statement by Dave D. Lauriski,
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
September 27, 2001

First of all, on behalf of President George W. Bush and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, I want to express my most heartfelt sympathy to the families of the 13 miners who lost their lives in Sunday's explosion .... to the co-workers, friends, neighbors, and all those touched by these losses.

This has brought all of us a sense of shock and deep sorrow.

Most of us in the Mine Safety and Health Administration are former miners. All of us are part of the mining community. We grieve with you for the lives lost.

First and foremost, MSHA's mission is to protect the health and safety of our nation's miners. Today, we begin our formal investigation into all the circumstances surrounding this accident. Only in this way can we hope to find the root cause of how it occurred and thus prevent a similar accident from happening again.

Ive appointed a team of mine safety professionals from around the country to determine the cause of Sunday's explosion.

Heading this team will be Ray McKinney, manager of MSHA's district office in Norton, Va.

Also on the team are:
    Bill Crocco, accident investigation program manager from the agency's headquarters in Arlington, Va;

    Kevin Strickland, assistant district manager in New Stanton, Pa.;

    Stanley Blankenship, supervisory special investigator in Norton, Va.;

    Kenny Murray, supervisory coal mine inspector in Pikeville, Ky.;

    Roy Davison, supervisory coal mine inspector in Norton, Va.;

    Clete Stephan, mining engineer from MSHA's technical support division in Triadelphia, W.Va.;

    John Urosek, ventilation division chief in the technical support division in Triadelphia; and

    Mark Malecki, an attorney with the Department of Labor's Office of the Solicitor in Arlington, Va.

I have great faith in the expertise and judgement of each one of these men. In fact, two of them already are on site at the mine and have set up a command center for MSHA.

The team will spend its time interviewing mine personnel, examining the physical evidence once it is safe to re-enter the mine, carefully reviewing all mine records, and conducting laboratory tests as needed.

I have instructed our team to conduct a complete and thorough investigation that will make all the facts clear, and a report that will be made available to all of you once the investigation is finalized.

Throughout this process, we will work closely with the State of Alabama, the United Mine Workers of America, and Jim Walter Resources to gather the facts.

Over the past few days, I've met with George Richmond, president of Jim Walter Resources, and Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers. Ive talked individually to quite a few miners who work at Jim Walter No. 5., and to many of the rescue team members who attempted to rescue their fellow miners.

I am touched and gratified by the support and offers of assistance that have been extended from every front. And I look forward to a continued cooperative relationship with all parties involved in the investigation.

This will likely be a long process, so during that time, we ask for your patience as the investigators do their work.

We will not speculate. We will not rush to judgement. We will not draw conclusions from information that is incomplete. But we will determine all the facts, and when we have done so, we will provide those facts to the miners' families, to you, and to the public.

Thank you.