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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Coal miner who died in West Virginia lost brother in Sago disaster

In this Jan 8, 2006 file photo, twelve black ribbons are tied on the perimeter fence of the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W.Va., in memory of the 12 coal miners who died here after a mine explosion. (CAROLYN KASTER / Associated Press)
Associated Press

MILL CREEK, W.Va. – A coal miner who died on the job in West Virginia was the brother of one the 12 killed in the Sago Mine disaster of 2006.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that authorities identified the miner found dead Friday as Owen Mark Jones, a fire boss at the Pleasant Hill Mine. The surface mine is located near Mill Creek, about 90 miles east of Charleston.

Jones’ brother, Jesse, was among those killed when an explosion ripped through the Sago Mine, about 25 miles from Mill Creek. The brothers had worked together at the same mines for 17 years.

On the day of the 2006 explosion, Owen Jones headed a second crew that followed his brother’s group into the Sago Mine. His crew was about 10 minutes behind the others because they needed to switch to a larger vehicle, and they made it back out.

Jones was among the men who tried to reach the 13 trapped miners, only one of whom survived.

“It was like watching your brother falling off a cliff and not being able to do anything about it,” he said at the time.

Jones later returned to work at Sago, but ultimately asked for a transfer.

“Every single noise, you jump,” he said. “You’re on edge all of the time.”

Jones, whose great-grandfather also died in a mine explosion, said at the time that the pay was the main reason he returned to coal mining despite the dangers.

“My wife and kids don’t want me to ever go back, but what are you supposed to do? You either work in the woods around here or in the coal mines or you work for Hardee’s or McDonald’s or something like that, and then you don’t make enough money to live,” he said.

Jones, 51, is survived his wife, two children and five grandchildren.

Gov. Jim Justice’s office called the death “especially heartbreaking” because “this family has been devastated twice in the last 11 years by losing loved ones in the mines.”

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration confirmed the fatality Friday at the Carter Roag Coal Co. mine. No other information about the circumstances of Jones’ death was immediately released. Carter Roag is owned by Metinvest, a mining and metals firm headquartered in Ukraine.

The federal agency said it’s the sixth coal mining death in West Virginia this year, up from three killed on the job last year. Twelve coal miners have been killed nationwide so far this year, up from eight in 2016.