The Aracoma Alma Mine accident occurred when a conveyor belt in the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1 at Melville in Logan County, West Virginia caught fire. The conveyor belt ignited on the morning of January 19, 2006, pouring smoke through the gaps in the wall and into the fresh air passageway that the miners were supposed to use for their escape, obscuring their vision and ultimately leading to the death of two of them. The two men, Ellery Hatfield, 47 and Don Bragg, 33, died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they became separated from 10 other members of their crew. The others held hands and edged through the air intake amid dense smoke.
At the time of the fire, the mine was owned by Aracoma Coal Company Inc., which was a Massey Energy affiliated company.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration issued an advisory to its 11 district offices to check for any missing stoppings in other mines. Inspectors were advised that two such walls—each 18 feet (5.5 m) long and 6 feet (1.8 m) high—were missing in the Alma mine when investigators arrived. If the wall sections had been in place, they would have prevented any exchange of air between the conveyor belt and the fresh air intake, the primary source of air for workers inside the mine. Instead, investigators now believe, smoke flooded into the air intake, which also serves as an escape route, disorienting two of the miners, who became lost and died in the fire.
The accident followed national media attention of the Sago Mine disaster, which occurred earlier in the month.
On Jan. 15, 2009 the Charleston Gazette reported that Aracoma widows Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield urged U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver to reject Massey Energy's plea bargain and record-setting $2.5 million fine for criminal charges, the highest fine ever for a mine safety violation. Widow Bragg stated that it was clear "that Massey executives much farther up the line expected the Alma Mine to emphasize production over the safety of the coal miners inside." Massey is also required to pay $1.7 million in civil fines for the accident.
On July 20, 2010, Michael Plumley 38 of Delbarton, W.Va.; Donald Hagy Jr., 47 of Gilbert, W.Va.; Edward Ellis Jr., 38 of Justice, W.Va.; and Terry Shadd, 27 of Chapmanville, W.Va. plead guilty to federal charges related to the accident. All four were foremen at the mine and each charged with failing to conduct escapeway drills as mandated under §75.383(b). Plumley’s charge states that as a section foreman he did not conduct escapeway drills in the No. Two Section of the Alma Mine from October 2005 - January 19, 2006. Ellis, a longwall section foreman, was charged with failing to conduct escapeway drills in the longwall section during this same time period. Hagy’s charge is that as a foreman he failed to conduct escapeway drills from June 2005 - October 2005. Shadd’s charges stem from failing to conduct escapeway drills in the No. 2 section of the mine from May 2005 - July 2005. On December 9, 2010 Plumley, Hagy, Ellis, and Shadd were each sentenced to one year probation and each ordered to pay a fine.
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“There is no accident so unfortunate but wise men will make some advantage of it, nor any so entirely fortunate but fools may turn it to their own prejudice.”
—François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (16131680)