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Saturday marks 15 years since Sago Mine disaster

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Saturday marks the 15th anniversary of the Sago Mine disaster, in which 12 coal miners died.

Randal McCloy, Jr. and his wife, Anna from a 2015 photo.

One worker died in the initial explosion at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 2, 2006 at the Upshur County mine operated by International Coal Group. Twelve others were trapped in the mine.

A U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration report determined lightning striking an abandoned cable as the likely cause of the blast.

A rescue crew reached the group nearly two days later, but 11 of the men had died from carbon monoxide asphyxiation. A miscommunication led to inaccurate reports that all 12 miners trapped underground were found alive.

Rescuers pulled Randal McCloy Jr. out of the mine on Jan. 4. McCoy spent weeks in a coma and received treatment for severe brain injuries.

Officials identified the victims as Tom Anderson; Jerry Lee Groves; James Bennett; George Junior Hamner; Marty Bennett; Terry Helms; Jesse L. Jones; Fred G. Ware Jr.; David Lewis; Jackie Weaver; Martin Toler Jr. and Marshall Winans.

Most of them died from from carbon monoxide asphyxiation. They waited for 41 hours for rescue crews to reach them. They eventually ran out of good air.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was governor at the time of the disaster, released a statement Friday:

“Fifteen years ago, we lost twelve brave coal miners who went to work at the Sago mine and never returned home to their families. As a state, we came together after the tragedy to grieve the loss of our fellow West Virginians and support the families and loved ones of those lost. After the disaster, West Virginia worked hard to pass legislation that improved safety standards for our miners who mined the coal that made America the leader we are today. The Sago disaster anniversary reminds us that coal miners risk their lives every day to power our nation, and we must prioritize their health, safety, and security. I will continue to fight to make sure no family suffers this terrible loss ever again. Gayle and I will keep the families and loved ones of those twelve brave West Virginians in our thoughts and prayers.”

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who represented the state’s second congressional district at the time of the blast, said her heart is with those mourning Saturday.

“This anniversary is a heartbreaking reminder of how West Virginia miners put themselves at risk everyday to power this country. We should never forget all that our miners have sacrificed and done for West Virginia families and communities,” Capito tweeted.

During an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” marking the 10-year anniversary of the blast, McCloy family spokesperson said Randal and his wife Anna, along with several children, were living a quiet life in Taylor County.

“Randy is naturally very shy, is very, very quiet and kind of pensive in the way he speaks and that hasn’t changed,” Goodwin Gregg said.” “But, if you did not know his story, if you met him on the street, you would never believe where he was ten years ago.”

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