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Explosion Kills 5 Miners in Kentucky; 1 Survives

May 21, 2006|From the Associated Press

HOLMES MILL, Ky. — An underground explosion in an eastern Kentucky coal mine killed five miners early Saturday, and a sixth miner walked away from the blast, which sprayed an office building with rock and mud 100 yards outside the tunnel's entrance, Gov. Ernie Fletcher said.

The cause of the blast at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County was not immediately known. But Fletcher, who flew to the scene, said preliminary evidence suggested methane may have leaked from a sealed-off portion of the mine and mixed with oxygen, then something caused it to ignite.

It was the deadliest mining incident in Kentucky since 1989, when 10 miners died in a blast in the western part of the state, Kentucky officials said.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said the five deaths Saturday raised the national toll from coal mining accidents to 31 this year, with 10 of the deaths in Kentucky.

The miners, who were part of a maintenance shift on duty when the blast occurred about 1 a.m. EDT, were found about 3,000 feet into the mine, said federal Mine Safety and Health Administrator Ray McKinney.

The governor said some of the victims had donned breathing devices after the explosion and tried to climb to safety.

Federal investigators said four of the victims were found close together but could not confirm whether they had used breathing devices.

The survivor, Paul Ledford, was closer to the mine's exit than his co-workers who were killed, Fletcher said.

Ledford was about 15 feet from the mine's exit when he met rescuers on their way in to search, officials said.

Relatives of the miners gathered before dawn at the nearby Cloverfork Missionary Baptist Church to await word about their loved ones.

State and federal mine officials informed the family members of the deaths, the Rev. Mike Blair said.

"There's just a lot of heartbroken people," he said.

Authorities identified the victims as Amon Brock, 51, of Closplint; Jimmy D. Lee, 33, of Wallins Creek; Roy Middleton, 35, of Evarts; George William Petra, 49, of Kenvir; and Paris Thomas Jr., 53, also of Evarts.

The mine, which employed 34 people and averages about 220,000 tons of coal per year, goes about 11,300 feet deep.

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