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Old Maps Faulted in July Mine Accident

Report on Pennsylvania incident cites possible violations of state laws on record keeping.

November 08, 2002|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — A report released Thursday concerning the July mine accident that trapped nine workers for three days found two likely violations of state law regarding the keeping of accurate maps.

But it is unclear whether the state will be able to pursue charges against anyone, said David Hess, Pennsylvania's environmental secretary.

Investigators from the state Environmental Protection Department and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration interviewed more than 50 people during their investigation into the accident.

The preliminary report said inaccurate maps led miners to breach an abandoned coal mine, releasing millions of gallons of water that trapped them deep underground in the Quecreek Mine for 77 hours.

The Black Wolf Coal Co. had based its operations at the Quecreek Mine on maps from the 1940s and 1950s, leading the miners to believe they were a safe distance from the abandoned Saxman mine, investigators said.

The Saxman mine closed in 1963, but its operators never filed a final map with the state, a likely violation of Pennsylvania law, the report said.

A second violation might have occurred when Clyde H. Maize, a former state mine inspector, failed to turn over all maps and papers in his possession when he retired in 1970, the report said.

Among the items his granddaughter donated to the Somerset County Library in June, a month before the accident, was a Saxman mine map with "Final 1964" handwritten on the back.

"We will be recommending actions, but as the report notes, the inspector is deceased and the Saxman Mine is just a shell company, so we may not be able to take enforcement action," Hess said.

Black Wolf President David Rebuck declined to comment.

Howard Messer, an attorney for seven of the miners, said the report failed to provide more information about Black Wolf and state safety procedures.

"How can we evaluate this report without understanding what's been left out?" Messer asked.

He said he hopes the final report will give a more complete picture of what went wrong so future accidents can be prevented.

A final report is expected next month.

Among recommendations in the preliminary report are establishing a digital archive of mine maps and creating a way to ensure that inspectors turn over all maps and other information when they leave the department or retire.

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