State Investigators Explain Findings Behind Darby Mine Disaster

By: Danielle Morgan Email
By: Danielle Morgan Email

State investigators explained their findings Friday which included the first citations related to the blast.

Thursday night we brought you an exclusive early release of the state investigation's report on the deadly May explosion at the Kentucky Darby Mine Number One in Harlan County. The blast left only one survivor.

The report says open flame torches sparked a preventable methane leak.

Three of the miners died while trying to walk out of the mine through high concentrations of carbon monoxide, even though they were wearing their breathing devices. The mine now faces eight citations related to the blast, three of which are directly linked to causing the five deaths.

To the average reader, the report explains how illegal operations killed five miners.

"It took him away from me," said Melissa Lee.

To widows like Melissa Lee, who's husband was holding one of two torches, that we now know, ignited this deadly explosion, the report explains how a goodbye kiss was followed by a terrifying phone call less than an hour later.

"I want to know who said to do this," Lee said.

That's the one thing the report doesn't explain, who ordered the miners to cut metal straps with open flame torches in an area of the mine where methane was leaking.

"If you have no other choice than to build a seal where these are, you would simply take them down. There's several different ways you can take these down without using a torch," said Chief Accident Investigator Tracy Stumbo.

One of the findings in the state report says just before going underground that night, Amon Cotton Brock told one of the mine managers that federal inspector, Stanley Sturgill would quote "be back on Monday and he needed to get something done" end quote. The first thing on his notepad for things to do that night was "cut straps."

"Who sent them down there and why? I don't know why in the world they would do something like that," said the sole survivor of the accident, Paul Ledford.

Even though five of the eight citations to Darby are related to improper construction of mine seals, Attorney Kent Hendrickson, representing mine owner Ralph Napier, says there's not any evidence that the seals were leaking and they're unhappy with the report. Hendrickson says he's surprised by the amount of bickering between the state and federal agencies about the investigation and believes this report should have been released with the federal findings.

The federal report is expected early next year.

Another interesting finding is the amount of oxygen used by the four miners trying to exit the mine. Three, including the survivor, used only 30 percent or less while Paris Thomas used 75 percent.

The OMSL report is available online at, and

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