Sunday marked five years since a tragedy in southern West Virginia that still fills headlines across the state. Five years ago, April 5, 2010, an explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine near Montcoal in Raleigh County killed 29 men.
It took some five days for rescuers and first responders to recover the miners' bodies. The nation watched as crews worked to drain the mine of methane gas so it was safe enough for them to search. An excess of the gas in the mine is what caused the explosion, according to an investigation by the federal government.
Upper Big Branch was the worst mining accident in the nation in forty years. Statistics from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and Department of Labor show West Virginia has led the nation in mining deaths almost every year in the past decade.
West Virginia Mining Deaths by the Numbers:
Total coal mining fatalities in West Virginia between 2004 to March 30, 2015 amount to 120 deaths. That number is nearly double that of the second most fatal state of Kentucky, with 69 total fatalities within the same time period.
- 2010, the year in which the Upper Big Branch explosion occurred, was the most fatal year in West Virginia from 2004 to current--with 35 coal mining deaths reported.
- According to MSHA data, West Virginia has recorded at least one mining death every year since 2004.
- Over the 11 year-plus time period shown, West Virginia averages 10 coal mining fatalities per year.
Use the drop down menu in the map below to see coal mining fatalities by state for the years 2004 to 2015 (to date).
For many of the family members, the pain of Upper Big Branch has still not passed. In November, U.S. Prosecuting Attorney Booth Goodwin handed up an indictment for former Massey CEO Don Blankenship charging him with conspiring to violate mine safety standards resulting in the blast.
Blankenship pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court last month and as the trial date draws nearer, his attorneys continue to have the trail moved from Beckley, just an hour from where the disaster occurred. They claim the CEO will not be able to get a fair trial in the district because of the high profile nature of the case and preconceived notions of the jury pool. Goodwin’s office is fighting the claims.