With the miners recovered, the search for answers begins in earnest:
The most confounding question for mining industry experts is what triggered the explosion early Monday morning, just after the first two teams of miners had entered the coal mine. A mined-out chamber perpendicular to the main shaft had been sealed off four weeks ago with twin seals two or more feet thick. These seals were blown out into the main shaft with such force that some debris struck a second team of more than a dozen men who were riding in on a rail car hundreds of feet away.
Three members of the second crew, in interviews Wednesday night, said they turned around and groped their way blindly back to the entrance on foot. Four rescuers met them partway down the smoky shaft with another rail car and brought most of them out. Three of the rescuers and the crew boss then went back down the shaft as far as the smoke would allow but could not reach the other team, which had been on the far side of the explosion.
One theory is that lightning from an early-morning storm had been conducted into the sealed chamber and had ignited the methane gas inside. A federal contractor, the Tucson office of Vaisala Inc., a Finnish company, measured two lightning strikes within a mile and a half of the mine in less than a second, said Nick Demetriades, the manager of applications and technology for the company’s lightning division.
The strikes, which occurred at 6:26:35.5 and 6:26:35.7 on Monday, apparently came not long before the explosion, which has been placed at about 6:30 a.m. The second of the two discharges of energy into the ground was four to five times more powerful than typically occurs, Mr. Demetriades said. Vaisala’s observations were first reported by The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia.
I think what is most interesting is that this occurred in a part of the mine which was sealed off and not in current use. The fact that it is sealed off would seem to make it easier to figure out why it occurred- if it were in active use, you would have to add a whole range of additional variables, including the most unpredictable variable of all- human behavior.
I fully understand that there will be those on a certain side of the political divide who are going to continue to do everything they can to paint this disaster as avoidable or the result of inadequate government regulation and enforcement. Fine. Let them make their best case for it, and if their accusations are born out in the form of facts, then there should be some changes. The trick will be getting them to acknowledge that they were wrong, should that turn out to be the case.
Several of you have written to me linking to one story or another, saying to the effect “I know this pisses you off to be pointing fingers in the face of tragedy.” No. Not at all. What pisses me off is what Scott Shields did the other day– pointing fingers and chucking bodies at people without any facts, and, worse still, while the miners were still in harms way. These poor men weren’t even dead yet, and these hacks were using their deaths as ammunition for their little political crusade against Bush.
I have no problem, if after an investigation, fingers are pointed at this administration, at MSHA and OSHA and the President’s appointments, at Governor Manchin and the state agencies, at the company or the employees- if they are actually to blame or if their actions led to the disaster. I just get sick and tired of people on both sides of the aisle shamelessly exploiting every death for their own partisan needs.
Sometimes, accidents do just happen.