Sago Mine explosion report delayed at families request

Sago Mine explosion report delayed at families request

The release of a report blaming lightning as the cause of last January’s Sago Mine explosion has been delayed.

West Virginia state investigators are holding off on releasing the report about the blast that killed 12 miners “in deference to the requests and needs of the family members for additional information,” said Gov. Joe Manchin.

Manchin attended a news conference Monday with the victims’ family members during which the report was slated to become public.

The new version of the report, the conclusion of 11 months of investigation, is expected to be released next week.

Federal investigators also are still looking into the explosion.

Sources told CNN that in addition to the lack of information, the families felt the report left too many questions unanswered.

All but two of the families of the miners involved, including the sole survivor, Randal McCloy, are suing International Coal Group.

CNN called McCloy Monday, but he declined to comment. His spokesman confirmed the former miner’s family was present at the conference.

Parts of the report were leaked earlier.

Catherine McGuire, who represents three of the Sago plaintiffs, called the report a “cop out.”

“The cause of the deaths of the miners was not just lightning, whether they want to say that or not,” the attorney said.

“They (International Coal Group) may be trying to blame Mother Nature for this, but there are so many other factors to blame even if it was an explosion ignited by lightning,” she continued. “Saying lightning did it is not going to take away any of the blame.”

Some mining officials and relatives of victims have said a buildup of methane, a roof collapse, and faulty construction of the seals used to ensure proper ventilation of the mine might have led to the explosion.

According to The Associated Press, seals placed on an abandoned portion of the mine where the blast occurred were designed to hold under 20 pounds of pressure per square inch.

But the blast blew the seals open with pressure of at least 95 pounds per square inch, investigators found.

“How the electricity from the lightning entered the sealed area is still under investigation, and in that regard this report is not complete,” the report stated, according to the AP.

Also, the miners’ emergency air packs “did not perform in the manner expected,” the report says.

CNN obtained a copy of the report.

Investigators have proposed three possible routes into the 270-foot-deep shaft where the methane gas ignited:

– The electricity could have been conducted through a metal rail that runs along the mantrip — an elevator lift that carries the miners deep into the mine.

– It could have traveled through wet rock strata.

– It could have followed electrical equipment or holes in the air shafts.

Chris Hamilton, executive vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, an industry group representing 90 percent of the state’s mines, was also unhappy about the report.

If lightning caused the explosion, then operational changes must be made to ensure the safety of miners during electrical storms, he said.

“If mine shafts are such strong conductors that miners should adhere to the same sort of safety rules construction workers do — you don’t see construction workers working on buildings during lightning storms,” he said. “It is not safe. If if it is as dangerous for a miner to work during them, then they should be evacuated at the first sign of a storm.”

The West Virginia Coal Association plans to release an independent report on the Sago Mine explosion by the end of the year, he said, adding, “You can be sure there will be more in-depth information in our report.”

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.

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