A timeline of events in Upper Big Branch disaster

AP News
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Posted: Nov 14, 2014 4:42 AM

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on numerous counts of conspiracy, making him the highest-ranking executive charged in the April 2010 underground explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. Here is a timeline of major events in the Upper Big Branch disaster in southern West Virginia, beginning with the explosion:

—April 5, 2010: A massive explosion rips through the underground corridors at the Upper Big Branch mine about 30 miles south of Charleston, killing 29 men in the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.

—April 25, 2010: In a eulogy in Beckley, a somber President Barack Obama told the families of the workers killed that the nation would honor their memories by improving safety in the mines.

—April 27, 2010: The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee convenes a hearing on the explosion. At it, Mine Safety and Health Administration director Joe Main calls for beefed-up safety enforcement.

—May 14, 2010: Federal prosecutors announce they are conducting a criminal investigation into the mine explosion.

—Dec. 3, 2010: Don Blankenship, CEO of Upper Big Branch owner Massey Energy, announces his retirement effective at the end of the month.

—Jan. 29, 2011: Massey Energy agrees to be taken over by Alpha Natural Resources in a $7.1 billion deal.

—Sept. 22, 2011: Former Massey employee Thomas Harrah is sentenced to 10 months in prison for faking a foreman's license and lying to federal authorities during an investigation of the explosion.

—Dec. 6, 2011: In the biggest settlement ever reached in a U.S. mining disaster, Alpha Natural Resources agrees to pay $210 million to compensate grieving families, bankroll cutting-edge safety improvements and pay for years of violations by Massey Energy. Under the deal with federal prosecutors, Alpha will face no criminal charges in the explosion as long as it abides by the settlement.

—Jan. 11, 2012: In his State of the State address, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announces he will propose legislation designed to improve mine safety, including several provisions targeting methane gas and coal dust levels, and random drug-test requirements for mine employees in safety-sensitive jobs. The bill passes the Legislature.

—Jan. 23, 2012: The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training issues the fourth and final report on the explosion. All four found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno.

—Feb. 29, 2012: Former mine security chief Hughie Elbert Stover is sentenced to three years for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy security-related documents.

—April 4, 2012: Alpha Natural Resources announces the Upper Big Branch mine will be permanently sealed.

—Jan. 17, 2013: Former Upper Big Branch superintendent Gary May is sentenced to one year and nine months in prison on charges he defrauded the government through his actions at the mine, including disabling a methane gas monitor and falsifying records.

—Sept. 10, 2013: Former Massey executive David Hughart is sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for conspired in an illegal scheme to warn miners and other subsidiaries of surprise safety inspections. Hughart implicated Blankenship in the conspiracy during his earlier plea hearing.

—Nov. 13, 2014: Federal prosecutors announce an indictment against Blankenship.