2 miners freed from Kiski Township mine after rock falls

| Monday, June 24, 2013, 6:45 p.m.

Federal and state mine safety officials are investigating a rockfall Monday inside a Kiski Township coal mine that injured two miners.

The mishap occurred at about 4:50 p.m. at the Tracy Lynne Mine, which is operated by the Kittanning-based Rosebud Mining Co.

Rosebud Vice President Jim Barker would not identify the injured men, other than to say they likely lived within a mile of the mine, whose entrance is near the intersection of Brownstown and McCartney roads.

Rick Murphy, with the state Bureau of Mine Safety, said two miners were hurt, including one with a possible knee injury.

Barker described their injuries as minor. They were taken by Oklahoma ambulance to Forbes Regional Hospital, Monroeville.

John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the accident occurred when rock fell from a support pillar, not during a roof collapse as was initially reported to emergency responders.

Murphy said rescuers worked about an hour to get the miners out of the mine. They were reported to be conscious at all times.

Barker said mine operations ceased after the incident, but no miners were evacuated. Miners not involved in the mishap were interviewed by mine safety inspectors.

U.S. Labor Department spokesman Jesse Lawder confirmed that its Mine Safety and Health Administration is investigating.

Barker said a chunk, about 3 feet wide, 9 feet long and 3 inches thick, fell off the rock ceiling and hit both men.

He said the two injured men were among 16 miners in the mine.

Barker said the mine is no more than 400 feet below the surface at any point and only about 4 feet high. The miners must crawl on their hands and knees as they work.

Barker said the men were working about 6 miles from the mine portal.

He said safety is a priority for Rosebud.

“We all want to go home at night,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the employees and their families.”

A nervous Heather Bowser of Apollo waited at the gate to the mine property for word on her husband, Ryan Bowser. She said her husband started working in the mine about a year ago after he was unable to find a teaching job; she said he broke a finger a week or two into the job.

“My father-in-law works for Rosebud. He called and told me to turn on the news,” she said of how she heard of the accident. “I live up the street so I drove down.”

“They brought me over to both ambulances,” Bowser said. “He wasn't in either one.”

Bowser looked on as two ambulances left the property.

A Kiski Township police officer guarded the gate, saying that trying to get past would constitute a federal offense.

What safety records show

According to the MSHA, the Tracy Lynne Mine has been open since 1997.

A 26-year old miner from Kittanning died in the mine in June 2005.

This year, according to MSHA records online, the mine has been inspected 16 times, including three inspections in June, and one as recently as June 20.

None of the June inspections resulted in citations.

However, during a “regular health and safety inspection” that began on April 1 and is listed as ongoing, a total of 18 violations were filed between April 1 and May 23.

Most seem to deal with the application of rock dust and maintenance of electrical equipment and machinery.

One citation, issued on May 20, indicates it relates to the supports of the “roof, face and ribs” of the mine. The citations don't specify what was wrong. No penalty has been assessed yet in relation to that citation.

According to MSHA records, five accidents have been reported at the mine this year; one involved an injury: on Jan. 3, a roof bolter's helper injured his knee while positioning his body.

The other accidents involved roof falls that did not affect any workers.

Five employees were injured in separate incidents in 2012, according to MSHA. None involved rock falls.

Brian Rittmeyer and Liz Hayes are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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