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Kentucky miners found dead

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Mine cited for hundreds of safety violations since January 2009
  • NEW: Mine operator says accident was rare moment
  • Men identified as Justin Travis, 27, and Michael Carter, 28
  • Mine roof caved in about 10:40 p.m. Wednesday

(CNN) -- Rescue teams have found the bodies of two miners killed in an underground collapse at a western Kentucky coal mine, state and federal safety officials said Thursday.

The body of Michael Carter, 28, a married father of one, was seen Thursday morning, more than 10 hours after the roof collapse at Alliance Coal's Dotiki mine near Nebo, Kentucky, about 75 miles northwest of Bowling Green, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said.

However, the rescue team initially was forced to pull back because of falling rock. When workers were able to return to the area in the afternoon, they were able to retrieve Carter's body, officials said. They spotted Justin Travis, 27, a married father of two, next to Carter moments later.

"They were engaged in an essential industry in this state and this country," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said. "It's a terrible tragedy to have lost their lives in this occupation."

The miners were 24,000 feet inside the mine shaft when the collapse occurred about 10:40 p.m. Wednesday. They were operating a machine called a "continuous miner," which uses rotating grinders to extract coal and send it to the surface, said Ricki Gardenhire, a spokeswoman for the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.

The federal mine safety agency said crews entered the mine about 11:30 p.m., but their efforts had to be halted because of "adverse roof conditions" just before 5 a.m. Spokeswoman Amy Louviere said the rescue effort resumed between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Thursday.

Webster County Coal, which operates the mine, said rescue operations were "initiated immediately." It said federal and state agencies were helping the company with the rescue operation, but efforts to contact the miners have been unsuccessful.

"We are in communication with the families of the two miners involved and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time," the company said.

State inspectors had cited the Dotiki mine for 44 safety violations since January 2009 and had issued 31 closure orders, which would shut down parts of a mine or machinery.

Eleven of the violations involved issues with roof control.

According to federal mine safety records, inspectors had issued 840 safety citations against the Dotiki mine since January 2009. The mine was slapped with 823 violations in 2008, the most over the past 15 years, resulting in $1.1 million in federal fines.

The federal citations involve a range of violations, from ventilation and coal dust concerns to record keeping and machinery maintenance.

Charles R. Wesley, executive vice president of Webster County Coal, said Thursday's accident marked a rare moment at the mine.

"It's the biggest mine in the state of Kentucky, and it's been fatality-free since 1988," he said. "They're professionals here. ... They have worked over 12 million man hours here without a fatality."

WFIE: Two trapped after mine roof falls

The mine is a nonunion site, but Timothy Miller, a United Mine Workers representative, arrived there to offer the company any assistance needed. He also said the union would be willing to represent the miners and help in any federal inquiry into the accident.

Alliance Coal's website said the Dotiki mine complex was opened in 1966, and Alliance purchased the mine in 1971. The federal mine agency says the mine employs 367 people and produces an average of 25,500 tons of coal daily.

The accident comes less than a month after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia left 29 miners dead, the worst U.S. mine disaster in decades.

After that incident, President Obama ordered a review of mines with poor safety records. The nation's top mine safety official, Joe Main, told members of Congress this week that existing laws and regulations related to unsafe mines have not been properly enforced. Main is the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

The accident brought worries about Kentucky mine safety into focus. It occurred on the same day that Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said that state-provided mine safety inspections and mine rescue teams would no longer exist if the legislature fails to pass a budget by July 1.

"We face a real potential cataclysmic event here in Kentucky if the legislature doesn't pass the budget by July 1," Beshear said after announcing the deaths of Travis and Carter.

"God knows that that's one of the last things that needs to happen when you've got an industry that is a dangerous one under the best of circumstances," he added. "We have to have mine safety inspectors in order to protect our miners ... so this surely will impress on our legislators even more than before the need to act expeditiously and the need to get some decisions made."

CNN's Joe Sterling and Samira J. Simone contributed to this report.