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Pennsylvania panel to explore mining accident

Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker says an independent commission to investigate the Quecreek mine accident is the best way to ensure future mine safety.
Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker says an independent commission to investigate the Quecreek mine accident is the best way to ensure future mine safety.  

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Pennsylvania is forming a nine-member special commission to probe the causes of the Quecreek coal mine accident, which left nine miners trapped underground for 77 hours until their dramatic rescue early Sunday morning.

Their ordeal began late Wednesday night when more than 50 million gallons of water poured into their mine from a hole in a wall that led to another, long-abandoned, flooded mine. Inaccurate maps had led them to believe the other mine was hundreds of yards away, officials said.

Three thousand feet from safety, the men tried but failed to make their way out before the water cut off their retreat and sent them running back into the mine.

Raja V. Ramani, professor emeritus of mining and geo-environmental engineering at Penn State University, will head the group, which will explore all aspects of the accident.

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The panel will include representatives of the United Mine Workers union; mine engineers and surveyors; mine safety, health and rescue officials; coal mine operators; and officials from Pennsylvania's Department of Environment Protection and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"We must learn as much as possible from incidents like this," Ramani said. "An inquiry completed with thoroughness and urgency can be an effective means to help make mining more safe in the future."

The accident -- which attracted the attention of the country and the world -- occurred in western Pennsylvania's soft coal country near Somerset, close to the crash site of one of the September 11 hijacked planes.

The panel will examine the following issues:

  • The mine's design and layout to see if the accident could have been prevented;
  • Permit review procedures, specifically information needed for permit decisions, such as maps of nearby abandoned mines;
  • The mine's operation to ensure workers' safety and to detect mine voids;
  • Inspection and compliance with approved mine plans and operation requirements; and
  • Rescue and emergency response, including policies for sharing information with miners' families.
  • "Pennsylvania miners and their families need to be assured that we will do everything within our power to make sure that an event like this never happens again -- that should be the legacy of this frightful experience," Gov. Mark Schweiker said in a statement Monday.

    He continued, "Our first step is to understand exactly what happened at Quecreek. We believe that a special, independent commission that will look at the events objectively and from a wide variety of perspectives is the best way to get the answers we need to help make Pennsylvania mines safer."




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