Accident kills 1 in eastern Pennsylvania coal mine; 5 others escape, officials say

Monday, October 23rd 2006, 9:12 pm
By: News On 6

TREMONT, Pa. (AP) -- A coal mine accident, possibly an explosion, killed a miner Monday, but five others escaped, authorities said.

The incident happened 2,300 feet underground at the R&D Coal Co. anthracite mine in Schuylkill County, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

The victim was Dale Reightler, 43, of Donaldson, according to his brother-in-law Charles Kimmel. Reightler, who had worked the mines since age 16, had a wife and four children, and dreamed of setting up an auto repair business, Kimmel said.

"He was gonna give it up and go into auto repair full time," Kimmel said. "I guess that ain't gonna happen."

The owner of the coal company, Stu Himmelberger, was at Reightler's house Monday night to comfort the family but did not talk to a reporter.

State and federal investigators were trying to determine the cause of the accident, the state Department of Environmental Protection said. Regulators ordered the mine closed until an investigation is complete.

State police initially said the accident was an explosion. However, other state officials were more cautious, saying it was too dangerous to go down into the mine shaft to investigate because the incident knocked out the mine's ventilation system. They hoped
to have it restored Tuesday.

"Right now, it's a mining accident, a fatal mine accident, and that's what we're terming it until the investigation concludes," said Mark Carmon, a DEP spokesman.

The five miners who escaped were being interviewed, Carmon said.

The mine is in a remote, mountainous region in eastern Pennsylvania. A June inspection turned up no violations, while an August inspection found brush surrounding an exhaust fan that was cleared while the inspector was on site, according to state officials.

Four workers at the mine were injured Dec. 1, 2004, by debris from an explosion caused by a pipe with a faulty gauge, state officials said. The mine reopened after installing safety equipment, and two inspections this year turned up no significant violations, the state agency said.

The victim's neighbors were taking food to his family's home in the tightly knit mining community, neighbor Diana Carra said.

"The folks here really take care of each other," she said.

The area has the nation's only deposits of anthracite, a type of hard, relatively clean-burning coal that once heated millions of homes but now represents a tiny sliver of the U.S. coal industry. The mines still operating are typically small, with only a few miners.

So far this year, there have been 41 other deaths in U.S. coal-mine accidents, none in Pennsylvania. In the deadliest accident, 12 men were killed at the Sago Mine in northern West Virginia in January.