Consol Miner Markel Koon Found

The long wait is finally over for the family of Markel Koon of Shinnston. 

The CONSOL bulldozer operator who slid into a failed slurry impoundment in Harrison County was recovered Friday, two weeks after an accident caused the employee’s death, CONSOL officials said.

Company officials said dive and rescue teams successfully completed a pipe and dive recovery effort at about 4:40 p.m. Friday. The name of the miner is Markel Koon, 58, of Shinnston. He worked for CONSOL for 37 years and 9 months, company officials said.  May God bless this family as they finally lay their loved one to rest. (Source:  WAJR news)

Who was Mark Koon?

Markel Koon was a union coal miner, having begun his career at Consolidation Coal Co. on Feb. 11, 1975. He was a former captain of the mine rescue team. He worked on multiple recovery and rescue efforts, including the Sago Mine Disaster.

He was a 1972 graduate of Shinnston High School. Mark enjoyed bear hunting, deer hunting and fishing, and spending time with his dogs. Mark loved his family, friends, fellow coal miners, and dogs.   It is clear that he was loved by his large extended family.

West Virginia coal miners are among the hardest working professionals in America. Despite strong MSHA regulations, coal mining continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Every year, miners are injured or killed because the coal operators continue to circumvent or violate safety laws for the protection of the miners. If a little more time and money was spent on the front end on safety for these hard-working employees, the companies could have avoided these tragic losses of irreplaceable lives and extremely expensive recovery efforts. When will they learn?

Recovery Progress Updates:

12/13/2012 p.m. update:  New tools have been brought in and work to extract the bulldozer operator has resumed.

Crews have been working to cut the bulldozer cab, which started at 1:55 p.m., according to MSHA Spokesperson Amy Louvre. The first dive was at 9:25 a.m. and divers encountered heavy frost and ice Thursday morning.

Crews had to reposition the pipe several times and they plan to continue working through Thursday evening.

12/13/12 update:  Divers are preparing to resume efforts today in the recovery of a Robinson Run Mine employee submerged inside a bulldozer in the Nolan Run slurry impoundment. Divers were on-site Wednesday, working to prepare the site after operations were suspended Tuesday night when divers experienced mechanical issues, according to Lynn Seay, spokeswoman for CONSOL Energy.

The professional divers used torches to cut a small hole in the cab of the dozer and were able to positively identify that the victim was inside on Monday, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.  “But they were unable to maintain an arc, and the water and slurry significantly inhibited the cutting process” as the divers worked to enlarge the opening Tuesday, said MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere.  “(They) plan to acquire different tools in order to attempt to cut through the top of the cab and extract the victim.”

“They believe it could take up to two days to cut through the top of the cab.  Typically, recovery operations have been taking place from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Source:  The Exponent Telegram: “Divers Bring in New Tools to Resume Recovery Effort,” Darlene Taylor-Morgan, 12/13/12.

12/12/2012 p.m. update: Dive teams trying to remove a bulldozer driver from a West Virginia coal slurry pond have been forced to suspend operations.  The slurry and water were hindering the attempts to cut a larger hole through the bulldozer cab, so it may take up to two more days to cut through to recover the miner. They suspended operations Tuesday night and are now looking for more effective tools.  (The Clarksburg Exponent Telegram)

12/11/2012 p.m. update:   Although diving efforts continued Tuesday, the body of a bulldozer operator had not been recovered as of late afternoon, according to company and federal officials.  CONSOL Energy has been cited by federal regulators for failing to maintain part of the slurry impoundment where a worker died November 30th.  CONSOL was cited December 3rd for failing to maintain a ditch leading to the Nolan Run impoundment.

Monday update:  CONSOL Energy has confirmed that divers have found the body of a missing bulldozer operator who was sucked into a slurry impoundment 10 days ago. The company says the man is located inside the cab of the dozer. Efforts to recover his body are ongoing – there is no time frame for when those efforts will be completed.  Spokeswoman Lynn Seay wouldn’t predict Monday how long it may take to remove him, calling it a complex effort that requires both time and precision.

Dive and rescue teams completed a series of pipe dives throughout the weekend that helped to determine the position and location of the bulldozer in the Robinson Run Preparation Plant impoundment. The teams were able to reposition the pipe and adjust the water jets Sunday evening in preparation for a Monday morning dive. Monday morning, crews cut an opening in the canopy of the bulldozers and divers were able to confirm that the employee is inside.

Monday a.m. update:  Divers located the cab of a bulldozer in a slurry pond at the Robinson Run preparation plant Sunday, but they have yet to determine if the operator is inside.

Several divers from River Services Company began diving Saturday and “the short-term pipe dive recovery effort (was) still underway” Sunday, according to an email from Lynn Seay, spokeswoman for CONSOL.

Sunday update:  CONSOL Energy and federal mine regulators were mum Saturday about a scheduled diving expedition to find the body of a bulldozer operator in a coal slurry impoundment at Robinson Run Mine.

Spokeswomen for CONSOL and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Friday that divers from River Services Co. would start searching the area Saturday.  But CONSOL’s Lynn Seay could not confirm Saturday if the work had actually started.  “I know they were scheduled to start the dive today,” Seay said. “I don’t know if that happened.” When asked if she might have more information later, Seay said she didn’t “anticipate anything today.”  Amy Louviere, with MSHA, said in an email she also had nothing to report.

However, a Harrison County 911 supervisor said Saturday night that some form of recovery work did take place at the site and would resume today.  (Source:  The Exponent Telegram, Jim Davis)

Recovery Dive Planned for 10:00 a.m Saturday

Saturday update:  Divers are expected to enter a coal slurry pond in Marion County at about 10 a.m. today as part of a plan to locate a bulldozer driver buried last week when part of the embankment collapsed at the dam serving the Robinson Run mine.  The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said a dog brought to the site Thursday night indicated the team is working in the right spot.

Engineers and Geologists Say Slurry Pond Failure Tragedy Could Have Been Prevented

Friday update:  The investigation into a West Virginia slurry pond collapse that swallowed a bulldozer operator is in the early stages, but people familiar with the construction process said it’s likely that someone pushed an expansion project too far, too fast.  Media outlets said the workers were pushing coarse mine refuse toward the upstream side of the dam to expand its foundation and increase its height.

Dennis Boyle of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in Charleston compared it to pushing material into a swimming pool. Move too far too fast, he said, and the material becomes saturated.  Geologists said there’s a narrow range of stability in the process, and Jim Pierce, a dam safety engineer with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said it appears the stability of either the embankment or the pond’s underlying foundation was lost.

A critic of the coal industry said regulators are ignoring stricter construction standards that could prevent more failures at hundreds of similar dam-like structures around the country. For at least a decade, state and federal regulators have allowed coal companies to build or expand the massive ponds of gray liquid and silt atop loose and wet coal waste, said Jack Spadaro, an engineering consultant and former director of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy.

There are more coal slurry impoundments in WV than in any other state (114) out of a total of 596 in 21 states.  Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said impoundment failures are rare. “These are the most scrutinized and most engineered earthen structures in the world, certainly in this country,” he said. “They’re monitored routinely. They have lots of eyes looking at them. … Anytime there’s a heavy rainfall, the agencies are out there looking at them.”

MSHA Issues Preliminary Accident Report

Thursday update:  MSHA has issued a preliminary report stating some of the facts known so far.  The preliminary accident report describes the series of events that happened on Friday, Nov. 30 at Robinson Run Mine Number 95.   A section of the dam, approximately 650 feet long, 20 to 25 feet above the water’s surface, and 70 feet back from the water’s edge, broke and slid into the impoundment.

MSHA said four miners were working in the area where the failure happened and three of the miners and their equipment were swept into the impoundment. Two of the miners were standing near the face of the dam, looking over and recognized a failure was about to occur. They began to run but were pulled into the water.  One of the miners swam to shore and the other was located and rescued by Nutter Fort Fire and Rescue.  The bulldozer operator working near the face was inside his equipment when it slid into the impoundment and remains unaccounted for.  The two rescued miners were taken to the hospital and treated and released.  Another bulldozer operator had been working in the area at the time, but he was far enough back so that he was not pulled into the slurry by the failure.

Longwall operations resumed on Wednesday, but that coal was being stockpiled—not washed — until the inlet side of the slurry impoundment (where slurry is piped in when washing takes place) can be isolated from the recovery area. In order to do that, a boom curtain is being installed across the impoundment. A chemical also will be added to the incoming slurry to help settle sediment quickly, and the pond levels will be monitored hourly.

 Specialized Louisiana Dive Team Preparing for a Pipe Dive

Wednesday p.m. update:  A group of specially trained divers from Louisiana plan to enter the coal slurry impoundment this weekend.  They are studying a bulldozer of the same model as the missing one and will attempt a pipe dive on Saturday.  Two twenty-foot pipes will be welded together and water jets attached to the bottom of the pipe will be used to flush out the solid material and clear a path for the divers to enter.  The pipe will be lowered from the floating barge to the top of the bulldozer.  Divers would enter the pipe through an access door, with an air supply and communications to operations based on barges on the surface, while water jets installed at the bottom of the pipe push away silt.

The divers will have just about zero visibility once they enter the slurry.  Fourteen barges are being constructed on the slurry pond to serve as a platform for the recovery efforts.    Once complete, the bulldozer will be located by touch of the divers, who will then enter the cab to try and recover the employee, but they don’t know the orientation of the bulldozer on the pond floor.  The bulldozer is 25 to 35 feet below the surface.

According to Consol Energy Vice President of Safety Lou Barletta, if this effort does not work, crews will construct a dam-like area to separate the dozer from the slurry.  They will construct a chauffeur dam inside the impoundment, Barletta said. The dam consists of sheet piling that will form a perimeter around the machine. Then crews would work on removing some items from the area so they can get to the bulldozer.  “We are hopeful we will find our colleague in the cab of the bulldozer,” Barletta said. “But, we cannot yet determine if our employee is in the cab of the dozer and will not know that until we proceed with the short term [plan].”

Understandably, the family of the bulldozer operator has requested that his name not be released at this time until all family members have been notified.

Search Efforts Continue for Missing Mine Worker in Harrison County

Wednesday a.m. update:  Search efforts continue for a missing mine worker in Harrison County. MSHA says several small boats will be used to help move barges into place to search for the man who disappeared into a slurry pond last Friday. They’ll be using 50-foot pipes to anchor the recovery site, which will include several barge platforms. The recovery effort itself is dangerous for the workers. MSHA says anyone inside the buffer zone, on the barges, or on the platforms will have to have a spotter and a life jacket. Consol Energy is expected to brief media this afternoon.

Tuesday update:  The official investigation into what happened at Robinson Run will begin today. MSHA’s mobile command vehicle has arrived on-site and will serve as a headquarters in the coming days as crews continue to search for a mine worker that fell into a sludge pit last Friday. Dredging at the sludge pond began yesterday. Operations are starting to resume at the mine. The company says returning to work will not impact the ongoing search efforts.

Monday update:  Search and recovery teams will continue to look for a missing mine worker in Harrison County tomorrow.  Dive crews have been used to try and locate the man, missing since Friday when a slurry embankment failed at the Robinson Run preparation plant. The man was operating a bulldozer when the embankment collapsed.  It’s believed the dozer was swallowed up and sank as deep as 35 feet below the surface. Search teams hope to pinpoint the dozer’s location and search around it.  The slurry is much thicker than anyone had imagined.

Sunday update:  “Diving isn’t likely going to happen today,” said federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere in a 10:45 a.m. Sunday update, following a Saturday night update saying diving would begin this morning. “Other options are being considered.”

Probing with pipes was to be conducted this morning prior to diving, Louviere said earlier.  Consol has taken platform barges into work from on the water, she added, and dredges are being assembled for use, although the assembly time will be lengthy.  An additional slurry pump is being installed to handle heavier material, such as sediment.

Louviere confirmed that the miner was in the bulldozer when the impoundment collapsed, so the hope is that when the bulldozer has been located — and they believe they have located it — they will find the miner.

Personnel were using metal rods to better locate the bulldozer and the machine may not be as deep as originally thought. Crews were working to confirm the bulldozer is 25 to 35 feet below the surface.  There were plans to use sheet pilings to surround and isolate the bulldozer, which would allow divers to enter the area to search for the missing operator

 One Miner Missing and Two Injured in Robinson Run Preparation Plant Slurry Impoundment Failure

Original story:  One person is missing and two were injured Friday following an embankment failure on top of Robinson Run Preparation Plant slurry impoundment.   Coal slurry impoundments are used to contain both solid refuse and the wastewater byproduct known as slurry created when preparations plants wash raw coal to help it burn efficiently before it is shipped to customers.  The CONSOL Energy mine is at the border of Harrison and Marion counties.

According to statements from CONSOL and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA): At about 12:15 p.m., a failure occurred when one bulldozer operator and two engineers were on top of the impoundment.

CONSOL confirmed that a refuse embankment gave way, causing a bulldozer and two pickup trucks to slide into a slurry pond.
According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the part that collapsed was a pad under construction within the pool area of the impoundment. The pad is more than 1,000 feet from the main embankment. The area that failed is roughly 200 yards long and 200 feet wide.

An ambulance took one engineer to Fairmont General Hospital, where he was treated and released. The other engineer was taken by HealthNet helicopter to Ruby Memorial Hospital and was in stable condition, according to CONSOL.

Crews were on-site searching for the third man. The embankment remains unstable, creating difficult rescue conditions, according to the energy company. The rescue effort included dive teams and a boat with sonar. Crews were expected to search throughout the night.

CONSOL also worked on lowering the pond’s water level to aid search efforts. The pond had a standing depth of 12 feet. Response teams are draining the pond at 1,600 gallons per minute, according to the DEP. The water from the impoundment is being pumped into a freshwater pond where it will be filtered and treated before being released. The DEP is monitoring the discharge.  As a result of the incident, the company canceled the 4 p.m.-midnight shift.

MSHA staff, state officials, company representatives and United Mine Workers of America personnel were at the site.
According to CONSOL spokeswoman Lynn Seay, there have been no leaks from the pond as a result of the incident, but material continuing to fall from the embankment into the pond hampered rescue efforts.

According to DEP Spokeswoman Kathy Cosco, engineers in consultation with the MSHA investigator have determined that there is no imminent risk of failure of the impoundment and no evacuations are anticipated.

Steven O’Dell, Alex Energy Employee, Also Killed in Separate Incident on Friday

Also on Friday, Steven O’Dell, an electrician, was killed when he became caught between a scoop and a continuous mining machine around 1:30 a.m. at the Pocahontas Mine A White Buck Portal near Rupert in Greenbrier County, said Leslie Fitzwater of the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.  The mine is owned by White Buck Coal Co., a subsidiary of Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. O’Dell was an employee of Alex Energy.

O’Dell is the state’s sixth mining fatality this year.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers.  Free books — Call us today: 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care:  WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters:  WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

Sources:  The Dominion Post, 12/01/2012, Alex Lang;;;,

5 thoughts on “Consol Miner Markel Koon Found

  1. C Lyons

    I believe your article needs to be corrected. In the first paragraph it states that the “mine workers body has been recovered”. This is incorrect and his body has not been recovered.
    Thank you.

  2. Jennifer

    Well this is quite disappointing that despite so many tragic accidents, the companies are not implementing safety procedures. I strongly recommend that these workers or their families has every right to file accident at work claim in order to get compensation for their loss. There are many law firms that provide these services on a no win no fee basis.

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