Itmann, Wyoming County, West Virginia December 16, 1972 No. Killed - 5
A mine explosion occurred about 3:45 p.m., Saturday, December 16, 1972, along the combined haulage track and belt entry in the Cabin Creek 4 panel section.
At the time of the explosion, all section crews were on duty and shift changeout operations were occurring; the day-shift crews were either enroute to the surface, on the surface, or performing miscellaneous work tasks throughout the mine. A total of 121 men worked in the mine on the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift. The Cabin Creek 4 panel crew was in a portal bus enroute to the surface when the explosion occurred; five of the 8-man crew were killed and the other three men were burned severely and required hospitalization. None of the other shift employees were affected by the occurrence.
The explosion originated about 1,000 feet outby the section working faces and was confined to the Cabin Creek 4 panel section. An explosive methane-air mixture accumulated in No. 1 entry used for conveyor belt and track haulage and was ignited by the portal bus transporting the section crew to the surface.
The Itmann No. 3 mine is located at Itmann, West Virginia. The Itmann Coal Company, operated under a management agreement with the Pocahontas Fuel Company, is jointly owned by the National Steel Corporation (33-1/3 percent), Consolidation Coal Company (32-2/3 percent), Bethlehem Steel Corporation (25 percent) and the Dominion Foundries and Steel Ltd. of Canada (9 percent). The Pocahontas Fuel Company is a division of the Consolidation Coal Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Continental Oil Company.
At the time of the accident, a total of 292 men was employed, 290 worked underground, 3 shifts a day, 5 and 6 days a week, and produced an average of 3,500 tons of coal a day. Production during the year of 1972 was 670,011 tons of coal. The mine is opened by 3 drifts and 2 concrete-lined double compartment shafts, 503 and 365 feet in depth, into the Pocahontas No. 3 coalbed, which ranges from 40 to 48 inches in thickness locally. The floor is shale ranging from soft to firm. The immediate roof is about 14 feet of firm shale overlain with sandstone ranging from 40 to 70 feet in thickness.
The volatile ratio of the coal in this area indicates that the dust from this coal is explosive.
Federal safety inspections of the mine have been scheduled on a 5-day week basis since September 5,
1972, and a health inspection had been started of the entire mine prior to the explosion.
The mine experienced a coal-dust explosion on January 4, 1972, in which three men were injured. On June 19, 1972, methane was ignited at a working face when the cutting head of a continuous miner contacted sandstone roof. None of the face employees were injured by the ignition. During the year 1972 to the day of the explosion, the Bureau issued 4 orders of Withdrawal and 89 Notices of Violation at the mine, and none of these entered into or contributed to the explosion.
Evidence of Activities and Story of Explosion
Management decided to produce coal on Saturday, December 16, 1972, and the day-shift crew (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) consisting of 121 men, entered the mine about 8 a.m., and they were transported to their respective sections without incident.
Normal production operations continued in Cabin Creek 4 panel section throughout the shift. About 3:30 p.m., Larry Akers, section foreman, called his preshift examination report to the surface and the report was given verbally to John Sizemore, the oncoming section foreman, and about 3:35 p.m., Mullens likewise telephoned the surface with a repair parts list for the oncoming section electrician.
The portal bus used for transportation of the Cabin Creek 4 panel section crew was parked at the end of the haulage tracks, and the crew left the face working area about 3:40 p.m. The crew positioned themselves in the portal bus as follows: Larry B. Akers, section foreman, and Jerry R. Billings, shuttle-car operator and survivor, were in the open operator's compartment; Dallas Mullens, electrician and survivor, Larry E. Bailey, continuous-miner operator and survivor, Lacy
N. Akers, general laborer, and Bill Hatfield, shuttlecar operator, were in the closed compartment on the inby end of the vehicle; and Teddy D. McMillion, roof-bolt operator, and David R. Meador, Jr., general laborer, were in the closed compartment on the outby end of the vehicle. Billings stated that he usually operated the portal bus, but that Larry Akers on this occasion
operated the vehicle.
According to his sworn statements given during the Bureau's investigation, after the portal bus had traveled about 1,000 feet outby the section face working areas, Billings heard the trolley pole become disengaged from the trolley wire and he noticed the usual arc that occurs when the electrical contact between the trolley-pole harp and the trolley wire is broken. Billings turned to get out of the vehicle when the explosion occurred; he believes that he was partly knocked out of the vehicle and dazed by the explosion forces. Billings' face and hands were burned, and he
temporarily lost his vision because of the explosion heat and flames and the dense smoke and dust. Billings stated that after he had traveled about 200 feet inby the stopped portal bus, he realized that he was traveling in the wrong direction. He then stopped his travel and attempted to open his self-rescuer. He stated that after breaking the seal he could not pull the opening lever and that after several unsuccessful attempts, he attempted with his opened penknife to free the securing band from the case without success and broke the blade of the knife. Billings placed the self-rescuer in his coveralls and traveled back towards the portal bus.
Near the vehicle, Billings encountered McMillion, who was asking for help. Billings was unable to help McMillion because of his own injuries and he continued to crawl along the track outby the vehicle until he became unconscious. The self-rescuer that Billings attempted to open was
sent to the testing laboratories of the Bureau of Mines in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Laboratory technician examined the self-rescuer and determined that it opened easily and was in good working order. From the information obtained from Billing's testimony, the Bureau investigators concluded that the extensive burns to his (Billings) hands prevented him from donning the self-rescuer.
Mullens (survivor) in sworn statements mentioned that he got into the inby compartment of the portal bus and was the first man in the compartment. After the portal bus traveled a short distance, Mullens heard a whishing sound and felt a heat wave engulf him. He yelled for the other men to get out of the vehicle and began to climb over the other men and out the compartment opening. Thereafter, Mullens remembers being conscious only a few seconds near the vehicle.
According to sworn statements, Bailey was in the inby compartment of the portal bus with Mullens where the explosion occurred; he was quickly aware of the heat wave and jumped from the vehicle. Because of the smoke and dust and his burned face, Bailey likewise was unable to see. He managed to open and use his self-rescuer and traveled inby the portal bus checking
for a route to the No. 2 entry (intake escapeway). Bailey thereafter reversed his direction, passed the portal bus, and likewise encountered McMillion but was unable to help him. Bailey crossed the belt conveyor and traveled into the No. 2 entry and crawled outby until he became unconscious.
All other section production crews were unaware of the explosion and they traveled to the surface without incident. When the Cabin Creek 4 panel mantrip failed to arrive on the surface as scheduled and trolley phone communications could not be established with the portal bus, management became concerned. Continued examination of the Cabin Creek 4 panel section revealed that methane had been ignited by the portal bus about 1,000 feet outby the working faces. Five of the section employees died as a result of the explosion, and three other crew employees survived, although burned seriously. Fourteen stoppings between Nos. 1 and 2 entries and 16 stoppings between Nos. 2 and 3 entries were partially or totally destroyed. Some timbers were blown out, several small roof falls occurred, and a few conveyor belt supports and rollers were dislodged.
The Itmann mine rescue team arrived on the section about 7:45 p.m., and the rescue team immediately began to explore the No. 1 entry at 200-foot intervals before temporary ventilation was reestablished in the explored areas.
About 8 p.m., Larry E. Bailey, section crew member, was located alive but unconscious and in serious condition in the No. 2 entry. Bailey was transported by stretcher and track-mounted equipment to the surface, where he arrived about 8:42 p.m. Bailey was examined by a physician and thereafter transported by ambulance to the Wyoming General Hospital, Incorporated, at Mullens, West Virginia. By 8:30 p.m., the remainder of the section crew was found near the mantrip car, and these men included two who were seriously injured and five who were dead. The two injured men, Jerry Billings and Dallas Mullens, were transported to the surface, arriving about 9:24 p.m. Billings and Mullens were examined promptly by a physician and then transported to the hospital. The five fatally injured victims were transported to the surface later, arriving about 11:30 p.m.
Summary of Evidence
This was primarily a methane explosion, and coal dust entered into propagation only to a minor degree.
The injured members of the Cabin Creek 4 panel section crew stated that on the day the explosion
occurred, the working places were well ventilated, that methane had not been detected at the
working faces, and that the methane monitor had not deenergized the continuous miner.
About a month prior to the explosion, the operator's request to change the mine ventilation plan
by ventilating the section working faces with air coursed over the belt conveyor in Cabin Creek 4
panel was approved by the Bureau of Mines, to provide adequate ventilation of the entry and to
dilute methane liberated from the shelter holes and at the belt feeder.
Cause of Explosion
This explosion resulted from the ignition of a methane-air mixture in the No. 1 entry about 1,000 feet outby the working faces of Cabin Creek 4 panel section. The methane was ignited by an electric arc from a portal bus being used to transport the section crew to the surface. The electric arc occurred when the trolley-pole harp lost electrical contact with trolley wire. The source of the methane could not be determined positively and probable reasons for its accumulation at the specific time and location are conjectural. The investigators are of the opinion that in addition to the usual methane liberation in No. 1 entry, excessive pressure from the adjacent strata released additional methane into the No. 1 entry shortly before the explosion occurred.
Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume II