Harlan County mine fatality raises total to 26 nationally
April 21, 2006

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Two miners were killed over the past two days in Kentucky, bringing the number of coal industry fatalities so far this year to 26 nationally.


The latest death occurred about 4:30 a.m. EDT on Friday in an underground mine in Harlan County.

Rick McKnight, 45, of Cumberland, was crushed by a machine he was working on, said Harlan County Coroner Philip Bianchi. Bianchi said McKnight was pronounced dead in the emergency room at the Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital.

McKnight was repairing a machine used to shift coal onto a convey belt, said Amy Louviere, spokeswoman for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Louviere said the machine shifted and pinned the miner who was working in Lone Mountain Processing's Huff Creek No. 1 mine at Holmes Mill, about 30 miles east of Harlan near the Virginia border.

McKnight had worked at the mine for 11 years, said Mark York, spokesman for the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.

The accident occurred more than five miles underground.

Federal and state inspectors were investigating the accident on Friday.

The other fatal accident, on Thursday, occurred when material fell on top of him at a Pike County coal mine.

David Chad Bolen, 28, of Harold, was moving a shuttle car anchor in the Tri Star Coal LLC No. 1 mine at the time of that accident, according to a news release from the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet.

Bolen had been working at the company for two months and had three years' experience as a shuttle car operator.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher issued written statements offering condolences to the families of the miners.

"Two deaths in as many days are a concern and reminds us all of the dangers associated with mining coal," he said.

Five coal miners have now died on the job in Kentucky this year.

The General Assembly passed a measure in March that will require state inspectors to visit every coal mine in the state at least three times a year.

Spurred by a series of coal industry deaths, Kentucky lawmakers made a number of changes in mine safety laws earlier this year. Coal operators will be required to store breathing devices in underground escapeways, and would allow state regulators to fine companies that violate safety laws.

The new law, which goes into effect on July 12, also provides job protection to whistle-blowers who expose unsafe mining conditions.

However, Kentucky's law is absent some of the requirements included in legislation approved earlier this year by West Virginia lawmakers, including a provision that requires coal companies to provide a wireless communications system between working areas and the surface and tracking devices so that rescue crews could more easily find miners in case of accidents.
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United States Mine Rescue Association
www.usmra.com