Of the 25 violations cited by MSHA, 21 were classified as ”reckless disregard,” the most severe category of negligence under MSHA’s penalty structure.

“The number and severity of safety violations at the mine at the time of the fire demonstrated reckless disregard for safety, warranting the highest fine MSHA has levied for a fatal coal mining accident," MSHA Administrator Richard Stickler said. "MSHA has referred this case to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges."

The previous record fine was $540,000 for a January 1991 methane gas explosion that killed two miners at another West Virginia mine.

Numerous Violations Contributed to Miners' Deaths

According to a 118-page MSHA report, the fire at the Aracoma Alma Mine ignited as a result of accumulation of coal dust on a long-wall conveyor belt.

Among the violations that contributed to the miners' deaths, MSHA alleges that:

  • A missing wall allowed smoke into the mine's main escape route.
  • Faulty firefighting equipment hampered efforts to fight the blaze.
  • There was a 28-minute delay to evacuate after the smoke was detected.
  • Mine examiners weren't always provided with adequate gas detection equipment and/or means to measure air velocity or air flow.
  • Operators of the atmospheric monitoring system were not adequately trained in their duties related to mine emergencies.
  • Firehose couplings were not compatible with fire valve outlets and there was no water in the line.
  • Necessary ventilation controls had not been installed or were removed.

Massey Energy said it would have no specific comments on MSHA's report until the company has reviewed it.

In a statement released March 28, Massey Energy admitted that it did “appear that there were conditions at Aracoma at the time of the fire that did not meet Massey Energy standards.”

“The conditions appear to have occurred despite rigorous requirements for safety examinations and inspections for underground mines,” the company said. “ ... At Aracoma, it appears that deficiencies were not fully recognized by mine personnel or by state or federal inspectors.”

For a complete look at MSHA's report, visit http://www.msha.gov/Fatals/2006/Aracoma/aracomareport.asp.