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Feds Find Cause Of Deadly Kentucky Mine Explosion

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Federal investigators have determined what they believe to be the cause of an underground explosion that
killed five Kentucky coal miners last year, but they haven't yet
said what it is.
Amy Louviere, spokeswoman for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health
Administration, said a report detailing the cause will be released
Thursday, after relatives of the dead miners have been fully
briefed.
"First and foremost, our obligation is to the family members,"
Louviere said. "Once they've been briefed, we will make it
public."
The release of the federal findings will come more than four
months after Kentucky regulators wrapped up their investigation,
concluding that a cutting torch and flawed construction of a safety
barrier caused a May 20 explosion at Kentucky Darby No. 1 Mine in
Harlan County.
Jimmy Lee, 33, and Amon Brock, 51, died at the scene of the
explosion from blunt force trauma and heat injuries. The other
three victims - Roy Middleton, 35, Bill Petra, 49, and Paris Thomas
Jr., 53 - died from carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation
while trying to escape.
A sixth miner, Paul Ledford, was rescued with minor injuries.
The tragedy led to major modifications to Kentucky's mine safety
laws earlier this year.
"We would expect the federal report to be essentially the same
as the state report," said Tony Oppegard, a former state and
federal mine safety official who now works for the Appalachian
Citizens Law Center in Prestonsburg.
The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing determined that
the explosion was triggered when the torch ignited methane gas
inside the mine. The explosive gas had seeped through an improperly
constructed seal blocking off an abandoned section of the mine.
State regulators said mine operators knew methane was
penetrating the seal and should have corrected the problem when it
was first detected. They said use of a torch in that portion of the
mine was illegal.
Oppegard said a federal expert will likely be able to pinpoint
the ignition source and describe the path the fiery explosion took
through he mine.
Richard Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health
Administration, will take part in meetings with relatives of the
miners and the team that investigated the explosion. The meeting
will be in the federal agency's field office in Harlan.
State inspectors issued seven citations to Kentucky Darby for
safety violations. Some of those violations, investigators said,
were directly related to the blast, including improper use of a
torch, improperly trained employees and incorrect construction of
the seal.
Last year was one of the deadliest in recent history for coal
miners in Kentucky. In all, 16 miners were killed on the job,
prompting state lawmakers into action.
They passed a law that will require six inspections per year of
every underground mine and requires coal operators to provide
methane detectors for at least one member of every crew working
underground and to individual miners working alone.
The law will also require two medics to be on duty when coal is
being mined and that a vehicle be kept near working crews to get
injured miners to the surface quickly.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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