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Statement by Ray McKinney,
November 16, 2001
Birmingham, Alabama

Thank you all for being here today.

My name is Ray McKinney, and I am the team leader in the Mine Safety and Health Administration's accident investigation of the Jim Walter #5 mine in Brookwood.

I'd like to spend the next few minutes updating you on the progress of our ongoing efforts to recover and examine the site of the explosion that occurred on September 23rd.

As you know, the bodies of the 12 miners who were trapped underground have all been recovered. Our primary goal was to return these men to their loved ones -- as quickly as possible and without compromising the safety of the mine rescue teams. Finally, their bodies can be laid to rest with the dignity and respect they and their families deserve.

Once again, we offer our condolences and our prayers to everyone who has been impacted by the events of September 23rd. This has been an indescribably difficult time for the families and friends of the missing miners.

I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of the mine rescue team members who participated in the recovery operation.

For nearly seven weeks, they've worked non-stop in extremely hazardous conditions to locate their missing brethren.

Mine recovery work is grueling, backbreaking and tedious. In addition to the normal equipment that a miner carries, team members also must hoist upon their backs a breathing apparatus that weighs nearly 40 pounds. During the recovery, temperatures in the sealed areas underground rose to levels of nearly 100 degrees.

These men deserve our thanks and heartfelt appreciation for their heroic, selfless efforts. I hope you will join me in honoring them for the job they've done.

Now that the bodies have been recovered, MSHA's accident investigation team can turn its full attention toward determining the root cause of this accident.

We are renewing our commitment to conduct the most thorough, exhaustive investigation possible into the September 23rd explosion that claimed 13 lives.

Beginning tomorrow, the accident investigation team will travel underground to Section 4 -- to the area where we believe the initial explosion occurred. We will closely scrutinize that area, looking for any signs to help us pinpoint the ignition source that caused the blast.

This will be the first opportunity for us to examine the area and equipment on this section. We will have electrical specialists conduct thorough inspections of all equipment, cables and electrical components. We also have technical experts who will evaluate the roof conditions where the roof fall occurred.

Meticulous mapping of Section 4 will be done to locate any evidence that would indicate the direction of forces from the explosion and the extent of the flame path. We will also collect samples to determine incombustibility and coking within the area.

The examination of Section 4 is an important step for the investigation team and the information gained will become another building block as we try to reconstruct what occurred prior to the disaster.

Once again, I would like to emphasize that this is a lengthy, painstaking process. In order to translate all the information and evidence we are compiling into an accurate report, we must be very deliberate in our methods to determine exactly what set off the chain of events leading up to the September 23rd accident.

We will not rush to draw premature conclusions before we have collected all the vital pieces of information. We anticipate that tomorrow's entry into the Number 4 section will be a critical component in our goal to ascertain the exact cause of the explosion.

We appreciate the continuing cooperation and support of Jim Walter Resources, the United Mine Workers of America, and the State of Alabama throughout this investigation. We also appreciate the patience of the community of Brookwood. We are ever mindful of all that you've been through.

Thank you for your time.