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Settlement: 9 men died needlessly at Crandall Canyon coal mine

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27 2012 6:20 p.m. MDT

A pile of coal looms over the Crandall Canyon Mine northwest of Huntington on Wednesday afternoon, Aug, 8, 2007. (Kristin Nichols, Deseret Morning News) A pile of coal looms over the Crandall Canyon Mine northwest of Huntington on Wednesday afternoon, Aug, 8, 2007. (Kristin Nichols, Deseret Morning News)

HUNTINGTON — Nine Utah men needlessly died five years ago and were entombed in twin collapses of the Crandall Canyon coal mine, which the federal government said had a "grossly deficient" mine design, leading to structural failures.

On Thursday, Crandall Canyon's operators were slapped with penalties in excess of $1.6 million in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor.

"In this settlement, Genwal Resources and Andalex Resources have acknowledged responsibility for the failures that led to the tragedy at Crandall Canyon," said Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith. "These failures resulted in the needless deaths of nine members of the mining community."

As a result of an investigation by the mine safety administration, Crandall Canyon operators had 20 enforcement violations lodged against them that include improper mine design and the failure to modify that design, despite knowledge that it was inadequate to protect miners from bursting coal pillars.

Aerial views of the Crandall Canyon mine and drilling operation near Huntington, Friday, August 17, 2007. (Fritz Holly, Fritz Holly, KSL TV-Chopper 5) Aerial views of the Crandall Canyon mine and drilling operation near Huntington, Friday, August 17, 2007. (Fritz Holly, Fritz Holly, KSL TV-Chopper 5)

Six workers died Aug. 6, 2007, in a "bump" of the mine that occurred with such strength it was initially recorded as a 3.9-magnitude earthquake by seismic scientists.

In a rescue attempt 10 days later, three men died and several others were seriously injured in a second collapse. Despite repeated attempts to reach the men over weeks that dragged on, their bodies have never been recovered.

A memorial has been erected at the entrance of the mine's grounds — a tribute to the men whose lives were lost and to a tragedy that continues to haunt the small-knit community of miners even to this day.

The entrance of Crandall Canyon Mine on Aug. 19, 2007. (Scott G. Winterton, Dnews) The entrance of Crandall Canyon Mine on Aug. 19, 2007. (Scott G. Winterton, Dnews)

Miners Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez were nearing the end of their 12-hour shift when the mine collapsed in the early morning hours of Aug. 6.

Three rescue workers — local coal miners Dale Black, 49, and Brandon Kimber, 29, and mine safety inspector Gary Jensen, 53 — died after a 1.6 magnitude mountain "bump" hit,  blowing out the mine's ribs and burying rescue workers in debris.

In the settlement, the operators also agreed to classify violations of three safety standards as "flagrant," the most serious type of violation under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 that can carry the highest penalty assessment.

Aerial views of the Crandall Canyon mine fifth bore hole drilling operation near Huntington, Friday, August 17, 2007. (Fritz Holly, Fritz Holly, KSL TV-Chopper 5) Aerial views of the Crandall Canyon mine fifth bore hole drilling operation near Huntington, Friday, August 17, 2007. (Fritz Holly, Fritz Holly, KSL TV-Chopper 5)

Two of the flagrant violations are directly related to criminal charges brought by the U.S. attorney's office in Salt Lake City. Genwal Resources pleaded guilty to the two charges in March 2012. The third flagrant violation involves operators' failure to improve the mine's design following an Aug. 3, 2007, coal burst, which occurred three days before the first fatal accident in a different area of the mine.

"The violations contained in this settlement support (the Mine Safety and Health Administration's) investigation findings that the mine operators allowed conditions at Crandall Canyon to deteriorate and ignored the warning signs," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "This was a tragedy that should never have happened. Miners deserve to return home after a shift in the same condition they left."

Flowers decorate the road on the way to Crandall Canyon Mine Friday, March 9, 2012. (Alex Cabrero, Deseret News) Flowers decorate the road on the way to Crandall Canyon Mine Friday, March 9, 2012. (Alex Cabrero, Deseret News)

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