29 Confirmed Dead in Mine Blast; Officials Respond

“We now know that 29 miners perished at the Upper Big Branch Mine,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The best way that we can honor these miners is for the Mine Safety and Health Administration to do its job with the utmost integrity and thoroughness.”

Four missing miners were confirmed dead Saturday, after rescuers were delayed four days in their search efforts because unsafe levels of methane and carbon dioxide posed a risk of a second explosion.

“We remained hopeful the four missing miners would have been found alive,” said Massey Energy Co. Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship following the announcement of the additional fatalities. “I personally met with many of the families throughout the week and share their grief at this very painful time.”

Blankenship stressed that Massey Energy is working “diligently with state and federal authorities to try to determine the cause of this tragic explosion as quickly as possible.”

The huge underground blast, reportedly caused by methane gas, is the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970, when an explosion killed 38 in Hyden, Ky.

The mine has a history of violations for not properly ventilating the highly combustible methane, safety officials said.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has appointed a team to investigate the April 5 explosion in Whitesville, W.Va.

"The investigation team will work tirelessly to evaluate all aspects of this accident to identify the cause of the disaster," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for MSHA.

A team of MSHA mine safety professionals from outside the district responsible for enforcement at the Upper Big Branch South Mine will evaluate all aspects of the accident, including potential causes and the operator's compliance with federal health and safety standards. A formal report to be issued by MSHA will summarize the findings and conclusions of the investigative team, identifying root causes of the accident and how the incident unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that existed will be cited at the conclusion of the investigation.

The Upper Big Branch Accident Investigation Team is being led by Norman Page, district manager of MSHA's District 6 in Pikeville, Ky. Page has held a number of positions in his 25-year career with the agency, including mine inspector, ventilation/roof specialist, ventilation supervisor, roof control supervisor and assistant district manager. Page has participated in numerous accident investigations.

Other team members from MSHA's staff include Timothy Watkins, assistant district manager of District 6; Ben Harding, staff assistant of District 5 (Virginia); Erik Sherer, coal mine safety and health mining engineer from the headquarters office; Alvin Brown, program analyst of District 7 (Kentucky); Dave Steffey, mining engineer of District 6; Jerry Vance, educational field services specialist from Educational Policy and Development; and Jasey Maggard, electrical supervisor of District 7. Rich Stoltz, supervisory general engineer, Ventilation Division; Clete Stephan, general engineer, Ventilation Division; Tom Morley, mining engineer, Ventilation Division; and Sandin Phillipson, geologist, Roof Control Division in the agency's Office of Technical Support also will assist in the investigation.

Additionally, Derek Baxter and Dana Ferguson, trial attorneys for the Labor Department's Office of the Solicitor, are on the team.

For more information, visit http://www.msha.gov.

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