Sago Mine Report Scrapped Amid Criticism

Sago Mine Report Scrapped Amid Criticism

Concerns raised by relatives of 12 miners killed in the Sago Mine disaster prompted state mine safety officials to hastily scrap the report’s release Monday and promise to rewrite it.

The report concludes the Jan. 2 methane gas explosion in a mined-out and sealed off area was nearly five times more powerful than the foam seals were meant to handle.

Randal McCloy Jr., the sole survivor, and several relatives of the dead miners walked out of a private briefing in apparent frustration, with one family member in tears, after officials laid out the report for them and Gov. Joe Manchin. Most refused to speak to reporters, and some said state officials instructed them not to comment.

CBS News has learned investigators are struggling to explain how a lightning strike touched off a pocket of methane gas nearly two miles inside the shaft where the miners were working, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports.

The state canceled a news conference and a meeting of the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety, claiming the 2-inch-thick report was a draft that likely would be changed.

A copy obtained by The Associated Press, however, says the document compiled by the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training was intended to be a final report.

Caryn Gresham, an agency spokeswoman, said the families wanted additional explanations of some technical issues, which she did not specify.

Manchin said he had expected a more detailed presentation.

“I was just frustrated. I think the agency could have and should have done a better job,” the governor said.

A second briefing was set for next Monday.

While investigators believe an unusually powerful lightning strike triggered the blast, the report says additional testing is needed.

The cause of the explosion is clearly related to lightning, the report says, but “how the electricity from the lightning entered the sealed area is still under investigation, and in that regard this report is not complete.”

International Coal Group Inc., which owns the mine, said the state’s findings were consistent with the company’s investigation, which also cited a massive lightning strike.

The explosion was in an abandoned section of the mine that had been sealed less than a month earlier. The seals were designed by federal standards to withstand forces of 20 pounds per square inch, but state investigators found 10 seals were blown apart by forces of at least 95 pounds per square inch.

Six months later, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered that all seals must now withstand 50 psi ”” still only about half the force of the Sago blast.

The explosion occurred about 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 2, trapping 13 miners. One was killed in the explosion, and 11 died of carbon monoxide poisoning while awaiting rescue for more than 40 hours.

The report also faulted the emergency air packs miners carry with them, saying the packs “did not perform in the manner expected.”

State investigators suggested more answers might be forthcoming from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. MSHA has hired Sandia National Laboratories to determine whether electricity can travel through equipment such as the metal conveyer belt or simply move through solid ground. Test results are expected next year.

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