MELVILLE, W.Va. – Rescuers on Saturday found the bodies of two miners who disappeared after a conveyor belt caught fire deep inside a coal mine, bringing to 14 the number of West Virginia miners killed on the job in less than a month.
The bodies were found in an area of the mine where rescue teams had been battling the intense blaze for more than 40 hours. Rescuers could not enter that portion of the mine until the flames had been mostly extinguished and the tunnels cooled down.
“We have found the two miners we were looking for,” said Doug Conaway, director of the state Office of Miners’ Health Training and Safety. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a positive outcome.”
The miners became separated Thursday evening as their 12-member crew tried to escape a conveyor belt fire at Aracoma Coal’s Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, about 60 miles southwest of Charleston. The rest of the crew and nine other miners working in a different section of the mine escaped unharmed.
Conaway said it appeared the two miners made a “valiant effort” to escape but were blocked by high temperatures and thick smoke.
Fourteen West Virginia miners have been killed on the job since Jan. 2. Earlier this month, 12 miners died as a result of an explosion at the Sago Mine, more than 180 miles away on the northern side of the state. The sole survivor of that accident remained hospitalized in a light coma Saturday.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin pledged to introduce legislation Monday dealing with rapid responses in emergencies, electronic tracking technology and reserve oxygen stations for underground miners.
“These two men who perished in this mine, the 12 men who perished in the Sago Mine, I can only say to each of those families … that they have not died in vain,” Manchin said.
He planned to travel to Washington on Tuesday to discuss the proposals with the state’s congressional delegation, hoping they will seek reforms on the federal level.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said Congress must give the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration the tools to operate effectively and may have to increase its budget.
“It’s unfortunate that every coal mine health and safety law on the books is written with the blood of coal miners,” Rahall said.
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