CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The sister of one of 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster is speaking out.
Petersen is participating in a documentary about the coal industry called “Blood on the Mountain.” She was interviewed by filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans, whose documentary has not been released. However the two decided to make Petersen’s 19-minute interview available to the public on YouTube. That decision came in response to last week’s release of another documentary, “Upper Big Branch — Never Again,” which was funded by former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.
Blankenship was set to appear on Fox Sunday to talk about his documentary and the anniversary of the disaster. However, he tweeted early Sunday morning, “Fox News unexpectedly canceled my interview for today.”
Petersen said her brother told family members for months leading up to the explosion that the company was not following regulations and intimidated anyone who brought up the problems.
“He would multiple times, on a shift, call to the switchboard telling them that he didn’t have enough air in the section, that they were working,” she said. “He would tell them that he needed to shut down the shift for the safety of his men.”
Petersen said those warnings were met by intimidation and even led to her brother being assigned to a different mine.
The explosion took place at around 3 p.m. on April 15. Petersen said her family was told by a high-ranking member of the Massey staff—who also happened to be related to the Jones’ family— her brother had not survived.
However, the company line, she explained, was that three miners remained missing and could be in a shelter inside the mine, waiting to be rescued. Petersen contended it was all a lie. All 29 men were dead and the company knew it.
She claimed the force of the blast made her brother’s body unrecognizable.
“He was black and charred, with lime thrown on this black, charred carcase,” she said tearfully. An autopsy revealed every bone in his body, was broken, Petersen said, and she’s not even sure the body they buried was her brother because there was not identifiable DNA.
Petersen explained the disaster had her questioning her Christian faith.
“The explosion that shook that mountain also shook the very basis of who you are as an individual.”
Four years later, Petersen said no one has been held accountable for the death of 29 men. In her eyes, there are three people who should be serving time for the deaths of the miners.
“They’re gone as a result of Mr. Blankenship, Chris Blanchard and Chris Adkins failing to make sure Upper Big Branch mine was safe,” Petersen said.
She said her goal in talking about the UBB tragedy is to encourage others to speak out when they see something wrong taking place on the job.
“I can’t get my brother back. The other families can’t get their family members back. But we can hope this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
You can hear Petersen’s full interview here.