Blast kills 3 near WV mine

An explosion near a West Virginia mine killed three workers and injured three others Wednesday morning.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | MARSHALL COUNTY, W.V. | January 22, 2003



"The mine continues to operate."

—Tom Hoffman


An explosion near a West Virginia mine killed three workers and injured three others early Wednesday morning.

The accident occurred in a remote area known as Nauvoo Ridge in Marshall County in northern West Virginia.

Pat Mull, chief deputy sheriff of Marshall County, said the location was "five miles from anywhere." Rescue workers took more than 30 minutes to reach the site after the blast was reported, he said.

The six workers, employees of Central Cambria Drilling Co., were digging at the bottom 24-foot-wide concrete airshaft above a coal seam when the explosion occurred, according to Tom Hoffman, spokesman for Consol Inc., the company that owns the mine.

The six workers were about 1,000 feet underground and some 60 feet above the coal seam; the nearest mineshaft was more than 1,200 feet from the explosion, Hoffman said. The mine itself, he said, was not affected by the blast.

Mull said the workers were using oxy-actylene torches to cut steel when "apparently they ignited a pocket of methane gas."

An investigation of the explosion has not yet reached an official conclusion.

Hoffman said federal and state officials were investigating the cause of the blast, but he said a conclusion would not likely be reached for "days, if not weeks."

Mull, however, said that naturally-occurring methane gas was the likely cause of the explosion.

"If I was a betting person," he said, "I'd bet on methane gas."

Hoffman wouldn't speculate on the cause of the explosion, but he mentioned that the workers routinely use explosives and cutting torches.

"There are a number of activities that are part of the normal construction process that may be related to the cause of the accident," Hoffman said.

One of the injured workers survived the blast, Mull said, by dropping to the ground and covering his head when he saw a flash in his peripheral vision.

That worker, 28-year-old Aaron Meyer, managed to use a crane to get himself back to ground level, where he called for help.

Mull said Meyer guessed that three of the men were dead.

But Meyer thought that two of his other co-workers might have survived the blast. However, when local police and emergency crews arrived, the chief of the Cameron Volunteer Fire Company refused to allow any of his crew down in the mine, since none of them had the proper training, and they were just as likely to become casualties as helpers.

"I have to tell you he was correct," Mull said.

Two of Mull's deputies Brent Wharry and Steve Cook did volunteer to go down, along with an emergency worker named Dawn Kline and Jack Cain, a Central Cambria employee.

They managed to bring up two critically injured workers Richard Brumley, 51, and Benjamin Bair, 23 who were then taken by helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital.

The other three men Richard Mount, 37, David Abel, 47, and Harry Roush III, 23 were found dead.

"They died a violent, severe and fast death," Mull said.

Mull admits that his deputies may have been reckless.

"They were probably wrong, but I probably would have done the same thing," he said. "These two deputies don't think they did anything special, they said it's something they'd do for anybody."


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