MINER killed in accident at recently reopened coal mine

Friday, August 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HARTFORD, Ark. (AP) _ A foot-thick slab of rock six feet around fell from the roof of a coal mine Friday, crushing a miner working deep in a newly opened shaft.

Another miner was injured at the Wilkem No. 1 mine, which recently resumed production near the Oklahoma border south of Fort Smith.

Justin Morgan, 38, of Mansfield, was the first underground coal miner killed in Arkansas in 23 years, officials said. Morgan was chief of the volunteer fire department at Mansfield.

Sebastian County sheriff's deputy Hobe Runion said Morgan's co-workers used a hydraulic jack to retrieve his body from beneath the slab.

Jim Robertson, 42, of Spiro, Okla., was hurt by the falling rock. He was treated at the mine for shock and taken to a Fort Smith hospital.

Mid-America Mining and Development Inc. reopened the Wilkem No. 1 mine this year. The shaft had been abandoned by another company about 10 years ago.

``Mid-America Mining has been diligent in employing all training and safety methods,'' the company said. ``We have notified authorities dealing with mining operations and are inviting a full investigation.''

Mid-America was recently authorized to begin taking coal from the ground after meeting federal safety requirements for ventilation and roof-control, the Mine Safety and Health Administration said Friday.

``They had plans that had been approved. The production had just recently started,'' said Richard Gates, MSHA's assistant district manager for the region that covers Arkansas.

Wilkem No. 1 had not been mining long enough for it to submit a quarterly tonnage report to MSHA, Gates said.

Roof conditions can vary from mine to mine, Gates said. MSHA investigators had been sent to Hartford, he said.

Until Friday, Arkansas' last underground coal mine fatality occurred Oct. 18, 1978, at the Hayes Chapel No. 1 mine at Clarksville, said Rodney Brown with MSHA's Office of Information in suburban Washington.

Friday's accident occurred about 9:15 a.m., Runion said. About 10 miners were in the mine when the roof fall occurred about 650 feet underground.

Coal has been mined in Arkansas more than 100 years, but there has been little underground activity here since the Federal Coal Mine and Safety Act of 1969 imposed tough safety standards on mining companies.

Until the underground mine reopened this year, most recent Arkansas mining was being done above ground.

Mid-America officials said last month that they planned to dig out about 100 million tons of high-grade bituminous coal known as Arkansas smokeless. After carving three main shafts for air, exhaust and a conveyor belt, it announced plans to begin production this month.

President Bush has touted the increased use of coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power to meet the nation's energy needs. Geologists estimate that Arkansas has about 1 billion tons of recoverable coal.

In a tour given The Associated Press last month, Mid-America demonstrated a roof-bolting machine that drills holes at least 4 feet up. A tube of epoxy is inserted, followed by long bolts that support metal braces that span the exposed area.

Mid-America said last month that it expected to have 350 employees once the mine hit full production.