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Ex-mine leader pleads guilty in deadly US blast

Ex-mine leader pleads guilty in deadly US blast

The former superintendent of a U.S. mine where an explosion killed 29 workers pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal fraud charge. The blast was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.
Gary May, the highest-ranking Massey Energy official charged in connection with the 2010 blast in West Virginia, faces up to five years in prison when sentenced Aug. 9 for conspiracy to defraud the federal government.
Prosecutors said May manipulated the ventilation system during inspections of the Upper Big Branch mine to fool safety officials and disabled a methane monitor on a cutting machine a few months before the explosion on April 5, 2010. It wasn't clear from court papers whether the device was ever fixed.
Prosecutors have accused Massey of violating numerous safety laws out of a desire to put production and profits first.
Three investigations concluded that the company allowed highly explosive methane and coal dust to build up inside the mine, where it was ignited by a spark from an improperly maintained piece of cutting equipment. Clogged and broken water sprayers then allowed what could have been just a flare-up to become an epic blast, the investigations found.
"When an inspector would show up on the property, I would call up and let them know that an inspector was wanting to come underground," May told the judge. "It was my intention to let them know that someone was coming."
The judge asked May if he acted with anyone else.
"All the station foremen, they would call up periodically, to ask if there were any inspectors," May replied.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said May's admission shows that the obstruction of federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors "was a routine matter at Upper Big Branch."
A recent internal review by the MSHA concluded that federal inspectors either missed problems or failed to examine areas where they existed in the 18 months before the blast. But the review found no evidence those failures caused it.
Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey and all its operations, including the Upper Big Branch mine, last summer.
Prosecutors have refused to say whether they are targeting former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, whose company was cited for violations so frequently that union critics accused him of regarding fines as simply the cost of doing business.
Blankenship, once one of the most outspoken leaders in the coal industry, retired months after the explosion, and he has all but disappeared from public view.


Updated : 2021-10-22 18:57 GMT+08:00