April 6, 2010

Miner was prepared to die, family says

Posted: 03:42 PM ET


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(CNN) - One of the men killed in Monday's coal mine explosion in West Virginia knew of the danger but didn't let it bother him, his family said Tuesday.

The blast at the Massey Energy Co. mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, killed at least 25 miners; four others are unaccounted for, officials say. The cause of the explosion had not been determined as rescuers worked Tuesday to bore ventilation holes into the Upper Big Branch Mine.

Benny Willingham, 62, a deacon in his church and the patriarch in his family, was among those killed, relatives told CNN's John Roberts.

"He was a good man. I know everyone thinks that about their loved ones, but Benny truly was a wonderful man," Willingham's sister Jean told CNN.

"He loved the Lord, and in church the other day, he thanked the Lord for saving his soul, and he thanked him for watching over him in the mines for over 30 years, and he said, 'If he takes me tomorrow, I've had a good life,' " she said.


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MourningMJ   April 6th, 2010 4:18 pm ET

This is a very tragic event; it is so sad that so many multiple families will suffer the grief and loss due to the very unexpected death of their loved ones. There have been other explosions in mines with devestating results; I hope the safety policies and procedures are taken much more seriously from this point on. Especially now that 25 families have grounds for major lawsuits due to the orginization being fined for high methane gas levels on more that one occasion.

veena   April 6th, 2010 5:39 pm ET

our prayers are with these families, please do not limit them to the news only but further take up responsibility to reach out to the nation for help. this is a sad day and i am sure that CNN will make it sure to compensate the families on top of the state and federal help then those ads for using coal as means of energy will be reciprocated. when the main bread winner is gone a woman is totally fallen apart to take care of her family and specially in today's environment when there are no jobs we all need to help, start a fund raiser, thanks!!

A. Smith, Oregon   April 6th, 2010 6:09 pm ET

Well over 90% of the hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars paid by Massey Energy owners of this Coal Mine went to Republican lawmakers in their apparent attempt to curtail Federal Govt. Safety and Mining Inspection regulations and curtail political favors in dealing with its numerous safety violations and pending fines.

Such a surprise!

The Republican lawmakers, Republican party and Tea party members make no bones about being for less Federal Govt. regulations on US Corporations.

LynnD101   April 6th, 2010 8:38 pm ET

Seismic Events Recorded Not Far From Mine Disaster Site

Two seismic events - one natural, the other manmade - occurred not far from a West Virginia coal mine just days before a suspected methane explosion left at least 25 miners dead and four missing.

Two seismic events - one natural, the other manmade - occurred not far from a West Virginia coal mine just days before a suspected methane explosion left 25 miners dead and four missing.

An earthquake registering magnitude 3.4 occurred early Sunday morning about 100 miles northeast of Montcoal, W. Va., the location of the Upper Big Branch Mine, a massive coal mining operation where an explosion killed and trapped miners more than a mile below the surface on Monday.

An earthquake of that magnitude is strong enough to dislodge pockets of methane gas, though the distance from the mine suggests that it would not have affected the explosion, Julie Dutton, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told

"There's the definite possibility that that's what could have happened, but not from this earthquake," Dutton said. "This one was too far away and days separated. That makes a big difference."

Methane is one of the great dangers of coal mining, and federal records say the Eagle coal seam releases up to 2 million cubic feet of the gas into the Upper Big Branch mine every 24 hours, which is a large amount, said Dennis O'Dell, health and safety director for the United Mine Workers labor union.

In mines, giant fans are used to keep concentrations of the colorless, odorless gas below certain levels. If the gas is allowed to build up, it can explode with a spark or static charge.

Another seismic event, this one man-made, took place closer to the mine on Saturday, April 3, when surface blasting at a nearby mine was initially mistaken for a minor quake of 2.9 magnitude. Dutton explained that with details still emerging, it was impossible to rule out the effects of this nearby seismic activity conclusively, though again she suspects that there was no connection.

"The cause could have been an earthquake, but probably not," she told Without specific details about the mine blast that have yet to be be conclusively determined, it's impossible to say for sure.

If we had a really specific time, we might be better able to rule out a quake," she said.

Diane Noserale, an information specialist for the USGS, echoed Dutton. She explained that the earth-science agency had looked for earthquakes as a direct cause of the explosion, examining the seismic waves that came from the mine blast.

"None of the seismic waves had any signatures that would have indicated an earthquake," she said. "A trained seismologist can tell the difference."

Professor Martin Chapman at Virginia Tech, an expert on mine-related seismic activity, said he believes seismic waves will probably not turn out to have been the caus. He pointed out that "we are not likely to see any seismic signal from the methane explosion that killed the miners - such events rarely couple well enough with the surrounding rock to create much seismic energy." Apparently, methane explosions simply don't cause large seismic waves.

Paul Earle, a geophysicist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., agreed that the nearby earthquake almost certainly was unrelated. "Susan Potter at NEIC and Martin Chapman looked for any signal that might have come from the accident and they did not see anything," he said, stating conclusively that "there is NO relation between the event on the Web and the mining accident.

"It is unlikely (but not impossible) that any signal will be found," he added, "because methane explosions do not generate large seismic waves."

Dennis Robinson,Tazewell   April 6th, 2010 9:17 pm ET

Don't tell CEO Don Blankenship of Massey Energy he will say that this mining accident was an act of God,yes thats the answer earthquake!!!

peggy   April 6th, 2010 9:21 pm ET

Take Dr. Phil away. He doesn't help.

Harold Voyles   April 6th, 2010 9:38 pm ET

Larry, miners don't have to die in explosions like the A. T. Massey disaster. I worked in a safe coal mine in Harlan County, Ky. Safety versus production? It costs more to mine coal safely. A.T. Massey views safety practices a nuisance at best-an evil at worst. Even well-meaning people being fatalistic allows the company some way. They deserve none. The right questions are not being asked by much of thge media. Over 100,000 coal miners have died in mine accidents. Enough!

Theresa   April 6th, 2010 9:47 pm ET

Why was this mine allowed to continue operations while there were so many violations? I'm assuming the owner,CEO could care less about the employees...all they care about is profit! Their (or the CEO the owner?)philosophy probably is everyone is replaceable. How callous & careless. For goodness sake is 2010....technolology galore & this is allowed to happen . Management should be charged not just fined .. It is ridiculous that this even never should have!!!!

Bill   April 7th, 2010 2:22 am ET

I am a Colorado Coal Miner, Mine Rescue Team Member, and EMT. Our hearts go out to all the families and we pray for a safe return of the mine rescue Teams.

frank   April 7th, 2010 3:48 am ET

so many people with comments and no idea of mining practices or the things that take place in a mine. ive had to deal with the safety in the massey mines and they have one of the safest companies going in my opinion. ive worked for large equipment companies,construction companies,in alot of eastern states and their safety practices are very stringent and to the t. what most people dont understand methane and coal dust if that is what caused the accident is part of the mining itself(thats where black lung comes from the dust anyway).maybe other things need to be looked at as the state and federal safety laws are sometimes far apart, and also the blaming of the company is a habitual thing to here from alot of the people that dont like the company(enviromentalists,union reps.,and people who just simply dont like anything about mining and wont work anyway) the men that were in this mine are to be upheld and remembered in the highest regards with evertone because they got killed taking care of there families and loved ones and risk their lives everyday with the dangers of any mine staring into their face.

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