SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – The owners of Utah’s Crandall Canyon Mine caused the deaths of three rescue workers by subjecting them to “unacceptable risks,” sending them into the collapsed and unsafe mine to try to cover up the disaster, the widow of a rescuer claims in Salt Lake County Court.
Murray Energy Corp. failed to call in independent consultants after a “bounce” registering 3.9 on the Richter scale trapped six miners more than 2,000 feet underground on Aug. 6, 2007, the complaint states. Ten days into rescue efforts, a pillar burst, causing her husband to be “literally buried alive,” Lola Jensen says.
The area of the initial pillar collapse already had been determined to present “unacceptable risks,” and previous mine owner Andalex Resources made plans in 2004 to seal the area due to deteriorating pillars, the complaint states.
After becoming mine owner in 2006, Murray Energy pressured engineering firm Agapito Associates to liberally calculate coal pillar stability so that Murray Energy could justify retreat mining, which involves stripping coal from pillars and floors, exposing the ribs of the pillars and increasing the risk of collapse, a practice “encouraged” by Murray Energy’s CEO Robert Murray, the complaint states.
As a “willing stooge,” Agapito helped Murray Energy continue to justify retreat mining even after a huge pillar failure in March 2007, causing a 2.3 tremor on the Richter scale, filling entries and blocking ventilation, according to the complaint.
In response to a company memo highlighting increasingly hazardous conditions, including “heavy bouncing,” CEO Robert Murray simply wrote “noted,” contradicting later claims that he was ignorant of bounces that occurred before the August accident, Jensen says in her complaint.
Because of “anxiety over the negative press,” Murray Energy pushed for dramatic rescue efforts, even though the advanced pace of coal removal would not enable rescuers to reach the trapped miners before they would die of thirst within 30 days of the blast, the complaint states.
In response to the accident, Murray Energy delayed obtaining an expert analysis on pillar stability and “subjected its miners to an even greater known risk” by directing rescuers to clear coal debris despite dangerous conditions, it states.
It was only after three rescue workers died in the Aug. 16 accident that Murray Energy abandoned rescue efforts and brought in independent ground control experts, the complaint states. The experts determined that the six buried miners could not have survived the Aug. 6 pillar collapse, due to extensive burst damage and low oxygen.
Lola Jensen is represented by Clay Stucki. She seeks punitive damages for the wrongful death of her husband, Gary Jensen, conspiracy, and other charges.