2 Missing Men Found Dead After Fire in W.Va. Mine

Mourners leave Bright Star Freewill Baptist Church after learning that Don I. Bragg, 33, and Ellery Hatfield, 47, had died. Nine miners and 10 crewmen escaped the fire that broke out Thursday in Alma Mine No. 1 in Melville, W.Va.
Mourners leave Bright Star Freewill Baptist Church after learning that Don I. Bragg, 33, and Ellery Hatfield, 47, had died. Nine miners and 10 crewmen escaped the fire that broke out Thursday in Alma Mine No. 1 in Melville, W.Va. (Photos By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Lawrence Messina and Nancy Zuckerbrod
Associated Press
Sunday, January 22, 2006

MELLVILLE, W.Va., Jan. 21 -- Rescuers on Saturday found the bodies of two coal miners who disappeared after a conveyor belt caught fire deep inside a coal mine.

The bodies of Don I. Bragg, 33, and Ellery Hatfield, 47, were found in an area of the mine where rescue teams had been battling the fire for more than 40 hours.

"We have found the two miners we were looking for," said Doug Conaway, director of the state Office of Miners' Health, Training and Safety. "Unfortunately, we don't have a positive outcome."

The miners became separated Thursday evening as their 12-member crew tried to escape a conveyor belt fire at Aracoma Coal's Alma No. 1 mine in Mellville, about 60 miles southwest of Charleston. The rest of the crew and nine other miners working in a different section of the mine escaped unharmed.

Gov. Joe Manchin III (D) and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) informed families of the deaths at a church before making the announcement, along with Don Blankenship, chairman of the mine's parent company, Massey Energy of Richmond.

It was the second major mining accident in West Virginia in less than three weeks.

On Jan. 2, an explosion at the Sago Mine, in the north of the state, led to the deaths of 12 miners. The sole survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., 26, remained hospitalized in a light coma Saturday.

Manchin pledged to introduce legislation Monday dealing with rapid responses in emergencies, electronic tracking technology and reserve oxygen stations for underground miners. He planned to travel to Washington on Tuesday to discuss the proposals with the state's congressional delegation.

Rescue workers on the surface of the Alma mine got no response Saturday morning when they drilled a 200-foot hole into a mine shaft to try to contact the missing miners. Workers pounded on a steel drill bit but heard nothing from below, and a camera and a microphone lowered into the hole detected no sign of them.

The intensity of the heat and smoke had blocked rescue teams from getting beyond the burning conveyor belt, Conaway said. Heat from the fire also had caused the roof of the mine to deteriorate.

The accident's victims, Bragg and Hatfield, were fathers with more than a decade of mining experience and had worked in the Alma Mine for five years. The two men had been equipped with oxygen canisters that typically produce about an hour's worth of air, but officials had initially said there were also pockets of breathable air inside the mine that they might have reached.

Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy smoke that cut visibility to two to three feet in the mine. Teams were able to get into four tunnels, each about four miles long, but they could not penetrate beyond the burning conveyor belt.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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