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MSHA finds previous problems with machine in fatal 2021 mine accident

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A final report from investigators finds a fatal mine accident from 2021 involved a piece of machinery which was known to have safety issues, but was never taken out of service.

Brian Wallen, 49, died when the electric mine utility vehicle he was operating crashed at the bottom of the service slope of the Mountaineer II Mine operated by Mingo-Logan Coal near Sharples in Logan County. The final report from MSHA indicates other miners had incurred problems with the same vehicle two days prior to the crash.

Two days before the wreck, an operator indicated there were problems with the machine’s brakes and rear suspension and it was taken to the outside to be repaired. However, before repairs could be made another operator used the unit a day before the crash. According to the report in that instance the brakes on the machine failed and it rolled out of control to the bottom of the slope.  During the free roll, the emergency brake also failed.

During an attempt to take the machine back up the slope and out of the mine for repairs, the machine lost power and rolled backward out of control. Two men on board jumped from the machine and the third managed to steer it into the rib to stop the momentum. This time the machine was towed to the outside and mechanics were told the power had failed. However, there was no report of the brake problems this time.

Investigators learned an electrician noticed a broken battery cable post was the cause of the power failure and made the repair, but since he had never been notified of the brake issues, he believed he had repaired the car and it was put back into service.

A day later Wallen took the machine into the mine, lost brakes on the 1500 foot slope, and crashed at the bottom. He died of massive trauma as crews tried frantically to get him to the hospital.

A post accident inspection revealed a myriad of mechanical problems with the Mine Utility Vehicle, some of which contributed directly to the accident.

MSHA cited two root causes in its findings. First, the mine operator did not have procedures in place for safe travel of rubber-tired, self-propelled equipment on the Surface Slope. Secondly the mine operator did not remove unsafe equipment from service to prevent miners from operating equipment with known safety defects.

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