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Surface miner killed in bulldozer cliff fall

An experienced surface coal miner was killed early Friday when the bulldozer he was operating plunged over a 180-foot cliff at a Perry County mine.

Harold Lee Graham, 53, of Campton was killed instantly, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Graham was still strapped in the bulldozer when he was found. He probably died of internal injuries, said Kyle Wolfe, a deputy coroner in Perry County.

The accident happened at 1:15 a.m. Friday at an ICG Hazard mine at Ary, near where Perry, Breathitt and Knott counties meet. There is extensive surface mining in the area.

Graham was using a large bulldozer, a Caterpillar D-11N, at the East Mac & Nellie mine to push rock and dirt over a cliff — a highwall, in mining terms — when the dozer fell over into a pit below, according to regulators.

In surface mining, explosives are used to shatter rock covering coal seams. Operators then use heavy equipment to move rock and dirt and load the coal.

There were no eyewitnesses to the accident, according to the federal report. Wolfe, the deputy coroner, said other mine employees noticed Graham was missing and looked for him. Twenty-nine of the mine's 75 employees were at work when the accident happened, according to the MSHA report.

Wolfe said Graham's body had been sent to Frankfort for an autopsy. The autopsy will include a routine screening for alcohol and drugs, but Wolfe said he wasn't aware of any indication that they were involved in the accident.

The cause of the accident was not known Friday. The state Office of Mine Safety and Licensing had scheduled interviews in its investigation for Saturday, said spokesman Jim Carroll.

Graham had been a miner for 30 years and a dozer operator for 20, according to state and federal records.

Graham's death is the fourth coal mining fatality in Kentucky this year — three at surface mines and one underground — and the 20th nationwide. There were only two coal-mining deaths in Kentucky last year, the lowest in state history and the first time there were no underground deaths.

A spokesman for International Coal Group Inc. said the company had no comment beyond a statement confirming Graham's death.

MSHA's data system said ICG Hazard began operating the mine in February 2006. The system does not list any fatalities, serious injuries or large proposed fines for alleged violations at the mine since.