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Armstrong Coal Company Inc.
Equality Mine Fall of Highwall

Centertown, Ohio County, Kentucky
October 28, 2011
No. Killed - 2

MSHA Final Investigation Report  (2.0 Mb)  PDF Format

Description of the Accident

On Friday, October 28, 2011, at 4:00 a.m., Dwight D. Lee, Superintendent, Jerry Southard, supervisor, Tommy Williams, Supervisor and Roger Smith, Safety Manager, met to discuss the day's work detail.  At 4:20 a.m. Lee, Southard, and Williams proceeded to the pit areas to conduct examinations.  Williams went to the East end of the #11 Pit, Lee to the West end of the #11 Pit, and Southard to the #14 pit.  Lee was in the #11 Pit on two separate occasions prior to the accident.  On four occasions, Lee passed the section of highwall that failed.  Lee stated that he met Winstead coming into the #11 Pit to the drilled area in the West end.  Lee further stated this was when Winstead would conduct a pre-shift examination of his work area as part of the routine as certified blaster.  Winstead returned to the staging area where the explosives truck and pump truck were located to meet with the miners that conducted blasting for the shift.

At 5:30 a.m., Winstead met with all the blasting company employees assigned to the day shift and gave them work orders.  Typically, the employees load their trucks with the supplies to be used and enter the #11 Pit.  Donald Thacker and Kevin Smith, Blaster Helpers, traveled to the pit and waited at the bottom of the ramp, which descends from the dragline bench into the #11 Pit.  Winstead and Lindsey entered the pit 20 minutes later and led a second truck, occupied by Smith and Thatcher, toward the drill bench of the #11 Pit.  Once reaching the area next to the ramp close to the Hitachi excavator/loader, operated by Ricky Phelps, Winstead exited the Ford F350 pump truck to look at the small ramp going up from the #11 coal seam to the rock bench above the #11 seam area.  The ramp is approximately a six-foot incline to the East.  Witnesses stated Winstead said he had trouble seeing the ramp because lights from the equipment in the pit were casting shadows on the pit floor and he wanted to make sure he was accessing the ramp properly.

As Winstead re-entered his truck, a rock, reported to be the size of a watermelon, fell into the pit.  Winstead attempted to maneuver the truck next to the excavator or to retreat out of the pit.  Additional rock began to fall, followed by massive rocks and boulders falling and covering the truck completely.  According to witness testimony, only a couple of seconds elapsed between the first rock falling and the massive fall.  The truck driven by Smith was backed away when they saw the rock falling and the reverse lights from Winstead's truck.  The Caterpillar 773 truck, driven by Dustin Southard, was struck by rock.  Southard was uninjured and exited the vehicle by the exit window and left the pit on foot.

Rock also struck the Hitachi excavator occupied by Rickey Phelps, who was not injured.  Richard Johnson was operating the Caterpillar 988 wheel loader and was facing the truck driven by Winstead.  Johnson and Phelps were positioned to see the rocks from the highwall strike the truck carrying Winstead and Lindsey (Victims).  According to Johnson, Phelps, and other witnesses, there was no indication of any loose material in the highwall, nor had any material fallen during their time in the pit that morning.  They further remarked the floor was clean and free of any rock.

Lee instructed Smith to notify emergency services, the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, (KOMSL), and MSHA.  Because of unstable highwall conditions, equipment was mobilized to begin scaling the highwall from the top.  Dave Lander, an Armstrong employee, positioned a Komatsu PC800LC-8 excavator and started scaling the highwall.  When loose material was removed, a Caterpillar 992G loader was sent into the pit to remove material from the pit floor.  This was done to gain access to the victims' truck and the Hitachi excavator that Phelps had operated.

Kenneth Allen, Executive Vice President of Operations for Armstrong Coal, Ronnie Drake, KOMSL District Office Supervisor, and Ted Smith, Assistant District Manager for MSHA, arrived on site to coordinate and facilitate recovery of the miners.  At 9:10 a.m., a plan of action was formulated to continue recovery operations, using the 992 Caterpillar loader working in the pit.  At 9:33 a.m., the plan was modified to allow the excavator, operated by Lander, to go back to the top of the highwall and pull/scale other loose material.  At 9:52 a.m., the plan was modified further to allow Lander to operate a Hitachi EX1200 excavator in the pit to remove rock from around the Hitachi excavator that Phelps had been operating at the time of the accident.  The excavator operated by Phelps had experienced damaged hydraulic lines and could not be used to move material.  Once enough fallen rock was removed from this excavator, more space was provided to allow Lander to begin removing rock that would recover the bodies of Winstead and Lindsey.  The rock was removed and stacked to the side and occasionally was relocated further to the East in the pit by the Caterpillar loader.  The victims were recovered at 12:00 p.m. by rescue workers and pronounced dead at the scene by the Ohio County Coroner.


The fatality occurred because of a geologic anomaly, located in the portion of the highwall below the #14 coal seam and above the #13 coal seam.  The area of the pit where this shows itself also had two intersecting (or nearly intersecting) discontinuities that slid into the pit.  The absence of a substantial bench to prevent the massive failure from entering the active pit where miners were working contributed to the death of two miners.  The failure by mine management and the mine examiners to examine the site adequately and to recognize the anomaly and its potential failure and the lack of recognition of hazards by the miners were also contributing factors.

Two miners dead after wall collapse in Ohio County
Channel 14 News
November 4, 2011

Darrel Winstead, 47, of Madisonville and Samuel Lindsey, 23, of Mortons Gap, died at the Armstrong Coal Company's Equality Boot Mine in Centertown.

Preliminary reports show a rock fall started around 6:30 Friday morning after a crew drove a truck near a high wall.

Tons of rock fell from that high wall, injuring several miners on the site.

The rubble trapped Winstead and Lindsey in a truck.

"We get together with all the ambulances here in town, coordinate a command post and they get that person to that point.  If they need extra equipment, we have to coordinate with Centertown Fire Dept. and other agencies to get people out," says Charlie Shields of the Ohio Co. EMA.  "Armstrong coal takes priority, they do the rescue, they got the heavy equipment in there.  To clear the high wall and until we know it's a rescue or recovery we have our guys on the side and they're ready to go at any given moment."

Crews tried to rescue the men but they were unsuccessful; their bodies were found Friday afternoon.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends affected by today's tragedy," said Governor Steve Beshear.  "Mine safety is of paramount importance, and investigative teams will begin work immediately to determine the cause of this accident and whether there are any steps that can be taken to ensure such an accident does not occur again."

Winstead and Lindsey were blasters for the Mine Equipment and Mill Supply Company.

The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing says they will investigate.

Today's accident brings the number of 2011 mine-related fatalities in Kentucky to six.

During the search, friend, families, and other miners met and waited anxiously.

14 News has learned the accident at the Armstrong Mine is the first in its history.

14 news caught up with a former miner Jewel Doyal.

She says working in the Ohio County mines was the best job she's ever had, but says she's always worried about safety in the mines.

"I just hope they'll watch more closely from now on."

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