Siltix Mine Disaster

Story Of Explosion And Recovery Operations

Participating Organizations: Officials and employees of The New River Company and representatives of the West Virginia Department of Mines, United Mine Workers of America, and United States Bureau of Mines participated in the recovery operations and underground investigation.

Activities of Bureau of Mines Personnel: District Manager W. R. Park was informed by James Page, manager of mines for The New River Company, during a telephone call shortly after 9 a.m., July 23, 1966, that an explosion had likely occurred in the Siltix mine. Immediately thereafter, Park instructed Inspectors R. J. Penman and Loraine Wotring to proceed to the mine promptly, ascertain what had occurred if possible, and thereafter, travel underground immediately if necessary. Penman and Wotring arrived at the mine about 9:40 a.m.; they were briefed by company officials with all available details, and then they proceeded underground to assist with recovery operations. Park, after directing Inspectors Wotring and Penman to the mine, telephoned Washington and local representatives of the Bureau of Mines of the occurrence. Park, J. D. Micheal, T. A. Allamon, F. H. Ryan, and J. W. Crawford arrived at the mine about 10:15 a.m. After briefing, Park, Allamon, and Ryan entered the mine and assisted with the restoration of ventilation in the affected areas and the recovery of the bodies. Director Walter Hibbard and Assistant Director James Westfield arrived at the mine about 4 p.m., July 23, and they participated in the underground investigation of the disaster. The following additional Bureau of Mines personnel arrived at the mine at various times July 23, and they assisted with recovery operations and the investigation: M. S. Childers, J. W. Weekly, C. E. Adams, C. E. Lester, J. W. Collier, G. S. Vargo, C. E. Phillips, J. W. Rutherford, and R. M. Cain.

On July 23, 1966, a Withdrawal Order was issued under Section 203(a)(l) of the Federal Coal Mine Safety Act, debarring all persons from the Siltix mine, except those needed for exploratory and recovery work. Before the Order was issued, management had withdrawn all men except those mentioned above from the mine.

Mining Conditions Immediately Prior to the Explosion: The weather was warm, humid, and partly cloudy on July 23, 1966. Records of barometric pressure recorded at the United States Weather Bureau at the Raleigh County Airport, Beckley, West Virginia, from 12 noon, July 22, to 12 noon, July 23, 1966, are as follows:

12 noon July 22, 1966 27.59
12 midnight July 22, 1966 27.59
7 a.m.July 23, 1966 27.63
12 noon July 23, 1966 27.65

It is the opinion of the Bureau investigators that the slight variation in atmospheric pressure had no bearing on the explosion.

The report of the examinations of the fire boss who made the preshift examinations for the 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. production shift, July 23, 1966, indicated that conditions on each section were normal, and gas was not found at any location.

Evidence of Activities and Story of Explosion; The day-shift crew (7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) consisting of 48 men, entered the mine about 7:30 a.m., July 23, 1966, and they were transported in mine cars to their respective sections without incident. Employees of the 6 left and I right butts conventional loading sections reached their working faces promptly and were loading coal when the explosion occurred.

The continuous miner and shuttle cars in the 2 left mains section had been moved back from the faces of the rooms at the end of the shift near midnight July 22 to clean up fallen roof rock in the pillar split (shuttle-car roadway) between Nos. 3 and 4 entries. The continuous miner and shuttle cars were left at this location to be trammed back to the room faces by the day-shift crew.

Two electricians worked their entire shift, 12 midnight to 8 a.m., repairing electric face equipment in the 2 left mains section. The electricians stated that only two other men visited the section during their shift, a roof-bolter and the fire boss. They stated further that neither they nor the roof-bolter traveled to any of the working faces and that they worked their entire shift in the vicinity of the belt tailpiece.

The day-shift crew in 2 left mains, consisting of a foreman, continuous miner operator and helper, electrician, roof-bolt machine operator, and three shuttle-car operators, arrived on the section about 8:20 a.m. Company rules require that the section foremen notify the superintendent or the tipple foreman on the surface of the condition of the section and/or that coal-producing operations have been started. Dallas Ayers, 2 left mains section foreman, called to the surface about 8:30 a.m. and informed the superintendent that they were "loading." This was the last verbal contact the 2 left mains employees had with other mine employees prior to the explosion.

Before entering the mine on July 23, Ayers was instructed to finish driving a crosscut right off No. 4 room into the gob and then begin extracting the room pillars between Nos. 4, 5, and 6 rooms. Lloyd Marcum, beltman, was shoveling coal splillage onto the belt conveyor at 6 left off 2 left mains when the explosion occurred. Marcum stated that prior to the occurrence, about two shuttle cars of coal and material passed by him on the 2 left mains belt conveyor. He stated further that the material appeared to be coal and dust from the roadways rather than fresh coal. Marcum stated that while he was shoveling, a terrific blast of air tossed him about 60 feet outby along the belt conveyor. He said that smoke and dust suspended in the air prevented him from seeing for some time, although he did not see any flame. Marcum moved along the timberline adjacent to the conveyor belt until he reached the 6 left telephone and notified Superintendent Keaton of the occurrence. Keaton instructed Marcum to remain at 6 left until he received assistance.

On the morning of July 23, the mine foreman. Maxwell Wallace, rode underground in the 6 left man trip with the section foreman and a crew of 10 men. The 6 left section crew began producing coal promptly, and coal was being loaded when the explosion occurred. Wallace and Wiley Cullop, section foreman, were near the 6 left belt tailpiece when they felt an unusually strong blast of wind. Immediately thereafter, they observed dense dust suspended in the air. Neither Wallace nor Cullop were aware of what had occurred or had any idea of where the occurrence might have originated. Wallace instructed Cullop to assemble his crew near the telephone at the 6 left tailpiece and to keep the crew there until he received further instructions. Immediately thereafter, Wallace began traveling outby along the 6 left belt in an attempt to learn what had occurred.

Cullop assembled the crew at the telephone, and he then began calling the surface buildings on the telephone. The general superintendent answered Cullop's call, and after Cullop had explained what had occurred, the general superintendent suggested that possibly a roof fall had occurred in an intake air course and he (Cullop) was to ascertain if a fall had occurred. Thereafter, Cullop ordered the crew to remain at the telephone while he traveled outby. Cullop traveled about 1,000 feet in the belt entry toward the mouth of the section, and after observing nothing unusual, he returned to the telephone and began calling on the phone. The general superintendent again answered, informed Cullop that an explosion had likely occurred in the 2 left mains section and that he was to take his crew to fresh air at the entrance to 6 left. The 6 left crew immediately proceeded along the belt entry toward the entrance to the section; the crew traveled about 1,000 feet when they encountered thick black smoke moving inby in the intake entry. To circumvent the smoke, the crew traveled through a man door in a permanent stopping between Nos. 2 and 3 entries and then traveled in No. 2 entry, a return air course, toward the entrance to the 6 left section. Upon reaching No. 1 entry, 2 left mains, dense smoke was again encountered, blocking the escape route. When it appeared that all escape routes were blocked by the dense smoke, the section foreman and the crew decided to locate a suitable place in No. 2 entry, 6 left and construct a barricade. Members of the crew began searching for barricading materials in the return air courses. The barricade was constructed at a crosscut between Nos. 2 and 3 entries, 6 left, three crosscuts inby the mouth of 6 left; it consisted of three plies of brattice cloth supported by wooden timbers and nails and was shaped in a semi-circle (See Appendix B). One end of the barricade was attached to the inby corner of the crosscut and the other end was attached to the outby corner of the crosscut. The rear wall of the barricade was formed by a permanent stopping between Nos. 2 and 3 entries. From measurements taken during the investigation, the cross-sectional area within the barricade was about 580 square feet. The 11 men entered the barricade and remained therein for approximately 45 minutes; they were rescued about 10:30 a.m. The men remained calm while confined and all decisions made were agreed upon by all members of the crew. None of the men showed ill effects from their confinement, and all were in good physical condition when rescued.

A section foreman and 10 men were performing normal coal-producing duties in the 1 right butts section when the explosion occurred. These entry face regions were not affected by the explosion. The crew was instructed by telephone from the surface to deenergize the sectional equipment and come to the surface. The crew arrived on the surface about 10 a.m. without incident.

During the examination of the 2 left mains section after the disaster, the continuous miner was found 47 feet outby the face of No. 4 room with the ripper heads at the outby edge of the crosscut right. It was apparent that the continuous miner was being moved toward the face. The body of the miner operator was found on the shuttle- car roadway about 25 feet outby the continuous miner on the controls side of the No. 1 standard drive shuttle car. The No. 1 standard- drive shuttle car was found about 15 feet outby the discharge boom of the continuous miner. The continuous miner trailing cable was looped over the back of the front seat of the shuttle car, and it appeared that the shuttle car was pulling the miner cable forward as the miner advanced toward the face of No. 4 room. The body of the No. 1 standard-drive shuttle-car operator was located opposite the controls side of the No. 2 standard-drive shuttle car against the left rib (See Appendix C). The No. 2 standard-drive shuttle car was located about 65 feet outby No. 1 shuttle car. The investigators believe the No. 2 shuttle car was not being operated at the time of the explosion. The body of the No. 2 shuttle-car operator was found about 5 feet from the discharge end of the No. 2 shuttle car. The roof-bolt machine was located in No. 2 entry in the second crosscut outby the pillar line. The body of the roof-bolt machine operator was found in No. 3 entry. It was apparent that the roof- bolt machine was not in use, and the operator was assisting other members of the crew in moving the continuous miner toward the faces.

The body of the section foreman was located in No. 3 entry, and the off-standard shuttle car was located in an open crosscut between Nos. 3 and 4 entries. This car was not in operation at the time of the explosion. The body of the electrician was found in No. 4 entry about 10 feet inby the surge bin belt feeder. The body of the continuous miner helper was found in No. 1 entry against the pillar fall. The injured survivor, Donald K. Legg, was located in the crosscut between Nos. 3 and 4 entries about 10 feet outby the off-standard shuttle car. The four men nearest the working faces, the miner operator and helper, the roof bolter, and a shuttle-car operator, moved short distances following the ignition, but the investigators believe that the other crew members moved only relatively short distances, if any, following the explosion.

The four victims closest to the room faces in 2 left mains section were burned severely, and the roof and ribs of the No. 4 room and the 2 left mains entries showed that gas had burned in these areas.

Examination of the 2 left mains section after the explosion revealed that considerable methane was emitting from breaks and crevices in the mine floor in Nos. 4, 5, and 6 rooms as well as at several other locations in the section. Furthermore, considerable methane was being released from inby pillared areas of 2 left mains and particularly from the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 rooms areas. Methane continued to be released from the floor openings in the rooms and other section areas and from the pillared areas for several days. Company officials and employees stated that increased methane liberation usually occurs in areas of this mine following pillar falls. The officials and employees stated further that such methane emissions were in- creased liberation rather than sudden releases.

The mine foreman stated that 7,800 cubic feet of air was entering the No. 6 room on the morning of July 22, 1966, and that this amount of air was measured after checks had been repaired and tightened. Inasmuch as neither line curtain nor other means were provided to course air to the faces of Nos. 4, 5, or 6 rooms, sufficient air could not have been reaching the three working faces so as to dilute or carry away even small quantities of methane. Furthermore, examination of checks during the investigation that had been installed in 2 left mains section before the explosion indicated that most of the marginal quantity of intake air reaching the section would be short-circuited before reaching a working face. Inasmuch as a fire boss made a preshift examination of the Nos. 4, 5, and 6 rooms and the pillar areas of the section several hours prior to the explosion and found all such areas free of gas, the investigators must conclude that "weight" and falling roof material in the pillar areas caused increased methane liberation in the rooms and in the section. Whether methane liberation in the 2 left mains section increased because of pillar falls and/or weights is conjectural; however, sufficient air was not reaching the section prior to the explosion or for several days thereafter to prevent gas accumulations in the explosive range. Consequently, inadequate ventilation was a major factor in this explosion.

Donald Legg, shuttle-car operator injured by the explosion and the only survivor of the 2 left mains crew, stated that ventilation in the six rooms had been weak. He stated further that the miner operator had complained of inadequate ventilation in Nos. 4, 5, and 6 rooms and that both the miner operator and the section foreman had found sufficient gas in these rooms on several occasions to necessitate "shutting down" the equipment. The gas at the working faces was cleared by tightening the check curtains. Legg also stated that it was the usual practice to "tie up" the end or side of the check curtain on the shuttle-car operator's side to prevent the wet curtain from striking the operator on the face or head. Legg mentioned that the trailing cable on his shuttle car caught on fire while he was waiting to be loaded on the return side of the section on Wednesday, July 20. Ventilation was so weak that smoke and fumes from the burning cable forced the entire crew to move back to the belt tailpiece for about 30 minutes while the area was clearing.

During the underground investigation of this occurrence, the investigators were of the opinion that the foreman had not examined the working faces of Nos. 4, 5, and 6 rooms at any time after his arrival on the section. During direct questioning concerning such an examination, Legg replied that the foreman had been near him (close to the belt tailpiece) from the time the crew arrived on the section until the explosion occurred. Legg stated further that the crew began moving the miner and two shuttle cars toward the room faces immediately after they arrived on the section.

Recovery Operations: The main fan was not damaged by the explosion, and it was not stopped during recovery operations.

Ronald Keaton, mine superintendent, was at the motor pit underground when he learned of the explosion by telephone message; he proceeded toward 2 left main entries immediately. Keaton encountered smoke and dust about 500 feet inby the mouth of 2 left mains, and the smoke and dust became extremely dense at 4 right. When the smoke and dust were encountered, the chief electrician was sent to the mouth of 2 left mains to deenergize all power circuits. Keaton and other employees then advanced to 6 right entries where they found stoppings blown out. They began repairing the damaged permanent stoppings with brattice cloth so as to increase ventilation sufficiently to advance to the continuous miner section. Shortly after reaching the belt conveyor tailpiece on 2 left mains, this recovery group found the body of the electrician and an injured survivor, Donald Legg; both were moved to fresh air. Weak ventilation at the belt tailpiece made it apparent to the group that considerable work and time would be required to reventilate the 2 left mains section. Keaton therefore decided that they should check and ascertain the whereabouts of the 6 left section crew. They began re-establishing ventilation in 6 left by repairing stoppings with brattice cloth when they heard pounding sounds coming from behind a permanent stopping between Nos. 2 and 3 entries. Verbal contact was made with the barricaded crew, and the 6 left crew was removed from the barricade and then to safety in the 2 left mains outby 6 left. All the barricaded men were in good physical condition, and seven of the men that had been barricaded volunteered to assist in restoring ventilation and recovery operations in 2 left mains.

Additional company. State, and Bureau of Mines personnel entered the mine about 10:30 a.m., and they went directly to the affected area and began restoring ventilation and exploring the area. The injured survivor in the section was sent to the surface promptly, and five men, including Superintendent Keaton and Mine Foreman Wallace, had reached the man-trip loading zone in 2 left mains as the additional company. State, and Bureau personnel reached the man-trip station. Keaton, Wallace, and the other three employees had been overcome with noxious fumes. These five men were transported to the surface promptly and then sent to the hospital for examination. They were treated promptly and all released the same day. Inasmuch as evidence of explosion forces were found about 1,700 feet outby the 2 left mains section, and noxious gases were encountered inby 6 left, the fresh recovery crew, equipped with detective and protective equipment, decided that while part of the crew worked on repairing and replacing stoppings in the 2 left main entries, other crew members would work to re-establish ventilation in the 2 left main face regions. Insofar as possible, ventilation of the 2 left main face regions was effected only after such areas were examined for fires and other hazards by men wearing gas masks, so as to lessen the possibility of forcing an explosive mixture of methane air over an undiscovered fire. Most of the stoppings in 2 left mains inby 6 right were destroyed, and high percentages of carbon monoxide and explosive mixtures of methane were present in the 2 left mains face regions until the last body was located and moved to fresh intake air. Universal gas masks were used in restoring the ventilation and exploring the entire section. Ventilation was restored sufficiently to recover the bodies, but heavy concentrations of methane emanated from along the ribs and floor of No. 4 room and from the pillar falls in the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 rooms and No. 1 entry throughout the recovery operations. The body of the last victim was located about 5 p.m., July 23, and all bodies and all members of the recovery crew were removed from the mine by 6:15 p.m., July 23, 1966.

After the last body was removed from the mine on July 23, representatives of the company and union and State and Federal inspectors decided to begin the underground investigation of the disaster on July 25, 1966. An official hearing on the occurrence was held July 28, 1966.

Company employees began rehabilitating the mine on July 26, 1966, by replacing permanent stoppings in 2 left mains; thereafter, the explosion area and other parts of the mine were cleaned of coal dust and rerock-dusted. Face electric equipment was restored to permissible condition, and the Director of the Bureau of Mines revised the Closure Order of July 23 to permit resumption of loading operations in I right butts August 3, 6 left on August 8, and the remainder of the mine August 17, 1966. A State and a Federal inspector were on duty each shift during rehabilitation of the mine.


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