Three supervisors with Black Mountain Resources coal company were indicted in federal court Thursday on a charge that they sent 12 miners into a Letcher County coal mine that had been ordered closed after a methane ignition.
The North Fork No. 4 mine in Letcher County, near Cumberland, was closed on July 29 after a methane ignition during a "retreat mining" process, according to records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Retreat mining involves pulling down coal pillars and walls while backing out of an already mined area, and allowing the roof to fall in.
According to the indictment, Anthony Esteves, Curtis Scott and Stephen Countiss sent 12 miners into the mine after MSHA ordered the mine closed.
An MSHA citation said "only company officials and persons selected by company officials," state and federal officials, a miners' representative, and others deemed necessary for safety and investigation were allowed in the mine section.
On Aug. 19, the citation says, miners did construction work in the mine section that was not on an approved seal construction plan.
Two months later, mine officials reported that they had completed company training relevant to the incident, MSHA documents say.
No one was reported hurt during the ignition or while the 12 miners were underground, but the violation of the MSHA mandate is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The North Fork Coal Corp. operates the No. 4 mine in Letcher County, near Cumberland, owned then by Black Mountain Resources, which has since been bought by Massey Energy.
Since the start of 2008, the mine has had about 35 injury accidents and a handful of non-injury accidents, according to MSHA records.
Officials at Black Mountain Resources did not respond to questions Friday.