LOGAN, W.Va. -- The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has levied a $1.5 million fine against
"The number and severity of the safety violations that occurred demonstrated a reckless disregard for safety," said MSHA's director, Richard Stickler.
The fine is the largest the agency has ever imposed for a coal mining accident, surpassing the old mark of $540,000 for a January 1991 methane gas explosion that killed two miners at another West Virginia mine.
Miners Don I. Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield died in a Jan. 19, 2006, fire after getting lost in thick, choking smoke inside Aracoma Coal Co.'s Alma No. 1 underground mine in Logan County. Aracoma is a subsidiary of Richmond, Va.-based Massey.
Lead federal investigator Ken Murray said the severity of the violations prompted the mine safety agency to refer initial findings about the fire to federal prosecutors late last March.
The US Attorney's Office in Charleston is investigating.
MSHA's investigation largely mirrors the state's conclusions about the fire. State investigators pinpointed a conveyor belt as the source of the fire and concluded that missing walls that control air flow and faulty firefighting equipment were key factors. The state also found that water lines for fire hoses and sprinklers at the scene of the fire were shut off and that fire hoses couldn't be connected because of incompatible fittings, a problem that had been reported to management after a similar fire on Dec. 23, 2005.
The federal agency also determined the mine was not following its approved ventilation plan. Air that should have gone to the face of the coal seam was being pumped in the opposite direction.
Massey Energy said in a prepared statement that it was reviewing the report, but had no specific comments about it.
Cecil Roberts, United Mine Workers union president, issued a statement calling the mine a deathtrap.
Massey is the nation's fourth-largest coal producer by revenue and operates 19 mining complexes in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky.