Testimony released from 2010 W.Va. mine explosion

AP News
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Posted: May 06, 2011 6:41 PM
Testimony released from 2010 W.Va. mine explosion

Massey Energy Co. officials and federal rescue teams were at odds over safety issues during the search for potential survivors in the hours after a 2010 mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 men, according to testimony given to blast investigators.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration released the transcripts Friday to families of the miners from the Upper Big Branch mine. The transcripts were obtained by The Charleston Gazette. MSHA declined to release them to The Associated Press.

They show MSHA rescuers were worried about volatile conditions in the underground mine and the lack of backup teams on April 5, 2010, as they considered the best way to safely search the mine for survivors. But at the insistence of Massey officials, MSHA supervisors overruled their own rescue experts.

The transcripts include hundreds of pages of interviews from nearly two dozen rescue team members during closed-door interviews with state and federal investigators.

"They could've ... they could've killed every one of us," MSHA mine team rescue member Jerry Cook told investigators. "At that time, we were expendable that night, that's my opinion. They didn't care what they did with us."

A Massey spokesman and an MSHA spokeswoman didn't immediately return telephone messages Friday night.

Two miners who survived the explosion were pulled out by a team of Massey rescuers. Those miners were part of a crew exiting the mine at the time of the blast.

Mike Hicks said he and other fellow MSHA rescue team members remain upset about the handling of the operation.

"A lot of people have a lot of concerns of what happened because a lot of us think we got real lucky," Hicks testified.

The explosion was the U.S. industry's deadliest in decades. It remains the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Charleston and federal and state civil investigations. The company also has offered $3 million settlements with the families of the miners killed in the explosion.

The mine about 50 miles south of Charleston hasn't operated since the explosion. Massey has proposed sealing the mine, but details still need to be worked out with MSHA.