Aracoma Alma Mine accident

From Global Energy Monitor

The Aracoma Alma Mine accident occurred when a conveyor belt in the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1 of the Logan County Complex at Melville, West Virginia caught fire. The conveyor belt ignited on the morning of January 19, 2006, pouring smoke through the gaps in the wall and into the fresh air passageway that the miners were supposed to use for their escape, obscuring their vision and ultimately leading to the death of two of them. The mine was owned by Massey Energy, and operated by its subsidiary Aracoma Coal Company. [1]


Investigators from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training (WVOMHST) found high quantities of combustible accumulations along belt conveyors, in some places up to the lower rollers of the belt. These accumulations "should have been identified and reported in the record books by examiners, and corrective actions should have been taken and documented, neither of which was done." Additionally, they found that if the wall sections had been in place, that would have prevented any exchange of air between the conveyor belt and the fresh air intake, the primary source of air for workers inside the mine. Instead smoke flooded into the air intake, which also serves as an escape route, disorienting two of the miners, who became lost and died in the fire.[1]

The two miners, Ellery Hatfield, 47 and Don Bragg, 33, died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they became separated from 10 other members of their crew. The others held hands and edged through the air intake amid dense smoke.[1]


The widows of the miners filed suit against Massey Energy, on the grounds that the company should have anticipated that the lack of an air control wall would allow smoke to fill escape routes. In the complaint, the women accused Massey CEO Don Blankenship of "personally engendering a corporate attitude of indifference and hostility towards safety measures which stood in the way of profit." The lawsuit was settled on November 17, 2008, although the terms were not disclosed.[2] Seven miners who were injured in the same fire have also filed suit against Massey, seeking punitive damages for their injuries.[3]

On Jan. 15, 2009 the Charleston (WV) Gazette reported that Aracoma widows Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield urged U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver to reject Massey's plea bargain. Delorice Bragg stated that it was clear "that Massey executives much farther up the line expected the Alma Mine to emphasize production over the safety of the coal miners inside."[4].

On April 15, 2009, a federal judge approved a plea deal with Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal Company. Aracoma pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges for the 2006 fire. The company was fined $2.5 million and must also pay $1.7 million for violations cited by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The plea deal included a provision preventing Massey and its officials from being prosecuted.[5]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 J. Davitt McAteer, "The Fire at Aracoma Alma Mine #1: A preliminary report to Governor Joe Manchin III" West, November 2006
  2. "Coal mine fire suit settled," West Virginia Record, November 17, 2008.
  3. "Miners injured at Aracoma seek damages," West Virginia Record, July 17, 2007.
  4. Ken Ward,"Aracoma: Widows oppose Massey plea deal" The Charleston Gazette, January 15, 2009
  5. "Massey subsidiary fined $2.5M for fatal mine fire," Associated Press, April 15, 2009.

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