James E. Hill, 72, who spent 28 years with the U.S. Bureau of Mines before retiring in 1970 as its director of mining research, died Thursday at Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria after a heart attack.

Mr. Hill joined the Interior Department's Bureau of Mines in 1942 and worked for the Bureau in West Virginia before coming here 35 years ago. During his career with the Bureau, he was a consultant ot the United Nations in Yugoslavia in 1952, and was a consultant with the Army Corps of Engineers from 1952 to 1958.

From 1955 to 1963, he was assistant chief mining engineer with the Bureau of Mines, before becoming deputy director and finally director of mining research. After retiring from the Bureau, he served on the Interior Department's advisory committee on coal mine safety research.

He was the recipient of the Interior Department's Distinguished Service Award in 1970 for his contributions to mining technlogy.

Mr. Hill was a native of Minneapolis and a resident of Alexandria. He was a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he earned a degree in mining engineering, and a 1953 graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Survivors include his wife of 47 years, the former Gertrude Claybourn, of Alexandria; a daughter, Judith Maj. James R. Hill of Fort Belvoir; two brothers, William D., of California, and Dr. Raymond, of Tennessee, and three grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the United Community Ministries or the charity of one's choice.