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Families Say Risky Retreat Mining|Caused Collapse That Killed 9

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Operators of the Crandall Canyon Mine engaged in risky "retreat mining," causing a coal blast that trapped and killed six miners, and three rescuers also were killed and six injured, the families say in Salt Lake County Court. Plaintiffs say Murray Energy Corp. failed to heed federal officials' warnings of the hazards of retreat mining, in which miners split support pillars and allow controlled roof collapses as they retreat toward the mine entrance.

Excessive overhead weight caused a seismic event registering 3.9 on the Richter scale that trapped six miners more than 2,000 underground on Aug. 6, 2007, the complaint states. The miners died "and remain entombed."

Plaintiffs say the retreat mining never should have happened. Andalex Resources, the previous mine owner, planned in 2004 to seal the area where the blast occurred because of deteriorating pillars, and the Bureau of Land Management subsequently determined that coal at the site was "not recoverable," the suit states.

When Murray's wholly owned subsidiary UtahAmerican Energy acquired Andalex, it decided to retreat-mine the pillars, and hired Agapito engineers to justify the plans, the complaint states. Engineers used stability factors that were far below federal minimums and said the mining would be completed before rib and roof conditions deteriorated the plaintiffs say.

They say Murray's CEO Robert Murray ignored continued reports of bounces, roof falls and rib sloughage. Murray encouraged illegal floor mining during pillar pulling operations, which occurred at the site of the blast, the plaintiffs say.

Defendants also are accused of allowing rescue efforts to continue despite seismic events that damaged roof supports and digging equipment. Ten days into the rescue, a bounce killed three rescuers and injured six others, forcing abandonment of the rescue, which had reached 800 feet, the complaint states.

After failing to report or evaluate a March 2007 bounce that forced closure of the north barrier, defendants immediately began mining under identical cover and conditions only 900 feet away, plaintiffs say.

They claim that in press conferences after the mine collapse, Murray denied that retreat mining had occurred and provided false hope to families and friends.

Plaintiffs, represented by Dewsnup, King & Olsen, demand punitive damages.

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