Within the United States Department of Labor, there is an agency called the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It’s purpose is to enforce compliance with mandatory safety regulations in an attempt to eliminate mine fatalities and to improve the safety and health conditions in U.S. mines. Between 2004 and 2005, the injury rate at the Sago Mine was significantly above the national average. This prompted MSHA to dramatically increase its on-site inspections at that mine. As a result, MSHA took 208 enforcement actions against the mine in 2005. From October to late December, there were 46 citations, 18 of which were considered to be serious and substantial. One of these citations involved concerns with emergency escape exits. A person doesn’t have to be a few steps beyond normal to wonder if those concerns were addressed.
In the early morning hours of January 2, 2006, miners at the Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia, reported for the first shift following the New Year’s holiday. The mine was cleared for use by a fire boss and two carts full of men entered the mine to begin another day of work. Conversations about the holidays were forever aborted when an explosion ripped through the mine, becoming the worst West Virginia mining disaster since 1968 in Farmington. One miner was killed instantaneously. The other twelve miners were trapped.
Two miles deep within the mine, these men could not find a way out. Heavy smoke and fumes made breathing difficult and the situation was made worse because at least four of the emergency oxygen packs were not working. Sharing the rescue packs, they took turns swinging a sledgehammer at metal plates, hoping to make their location known. Exhausted quickly, and with no apparent response, they began to accept their fate. They prayed, and some of them wrote notes to their families, telling them they weren’t really suffering, just seeming to fall asleep while waiting to be rescued. Following two days of rescue efforts, only one miner had survived.