Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing officials said Lenny D. Gilliam, 56, of Appalachia was killed and two other miners injured as they conducted retreat mining operations at Arch Coal Inc.’s Huff Creek Mine near Holmes Mill, Ky., located in Harlan County.
The injured miners were identified as Terry Scott and Johnny Nantz. Officials said their injuries didn’t appear to be life-threatening.
The fatal accident was reported at about noon Tuesday at the Lone Mountain Processing operation. Lone Mountain is a subsidiary of Arch Coal, based in St. Louis.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration had not posted any news releases on the incident as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Dick Brown, executive director of the Office of Communications and Public Outreach with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, said preliminary reports indicate the side of a coal pillar burst as a continuous mining machine was operating, trapping the miners.
Coal pillars are large blocks of coal left in place during the underground mining process to basically hold up the roof. The retreat mining process involves removing much of those pillars while ‘retreating’ out of a mined area. Even untampered with, coal pillars can “burst” due to subterranean pressure on the pillar.
A bursting pillar can explode a large amount of material into a mine void with great force.
Arch Coal Communications Director Kim Link said production at the Huff Creek Mine has been temporarily suspended while federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and state safety officials respond to the scene to begin the investigation.
Gilliam is the second mining fatality in Kentucky this year. In January, a miner welding a liner to a bulldozer blade was struck by the liner when a jack supporting the blade slipped.
Times-News Staff Writer Jeff Bobo contributed to this report.