BUCKHANNON, W.Va. -- A lightning strike a mile from the mouth of the Sago Mine probably sent an electrical pulse along a power line, ultimately igniting methane gas and causing the explosion that killed 12 miners, a consultant hired by the mine owner said yesterday.
The electrical charge apparently flowed from a tree to a power line 300 feet away and into the mine, said Thomas Novak, a Virginia Tech mining professor hired by International Coal Group Inc. to investigate the blast. Once inside, the charge traveled along a steel conveyor belt hanging from a metal mesh roof support, stopping just feet from the sealed-off section where the blast occurred.
Though there was a gap between the roof mesh in front of the seal and behind it, as required by law, the resistance to electricity there was very low, Novak said during the second day of hearings into the Jan. 2 explosion. ''Lightning doesn't have to strike something directly" to cause an explosion, he said, but he agreed that his preliminary findings could be characterized as a ''hypothesis."