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New approach needed in recovery of Consol miner’s body

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A new approach is needed to recover the body of the miner trapped in a bulldozer at the bottom of Consol Energy's Robinson Run coal slurry impoundment in Harrison County, crews decided on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

"The divers are not working today and plan to acquire different tools in order to attempt to cut through the top of the cab and extract the victim," federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere wrote in an email update on Dec. 12.

The miner was pushing coarse refuse, or rock, from the coal washing process to expand the foundation and raise the height of a dam on Nov. 30 when the section under construction collapsed into the impoundment.

The bulldozer was dragged more than 20 feet down into the slurry.

Two engineers who also were swept into the slurry were rescued, treated and released, but the bulldozer operator could not be located in time to save him.

Crews decided the slurry was too thick for diving. Over the following days, the company and federal and state regulators formulated two plans.

In a "pipe dive," four-foot-diameter pipe would be lowered over the bulldozer; water jets at its bottom end would force sediment away from the dozer, making it accessible.

In a concurrent, longer-term plan, a coffer dam would be constructed around the bulldozer and slurry would be pumped from it to make the bulldozer accessible to divers.

The pipe dive was begun on Saturday, Dec. 8 and, on the morning of Dec. 10, the missing miner was located in the cab of the bulldozer.

The plan from that point was to cut a section from the cab and recover his body; however, that plan proved unworkable.

"They had attempted to cut a small hole in the top of the cab using torches, but they were unable to maintain an arc, and the water and slurry significantly inhibited the cutting process," Louviere wrote. "They believe it could take up to two days to cut through the top of the cab."

Neither MSHA nor the company had provided an update by Wednesday afternoon on whether the coffer dam plan was still being pursued.

The name of the miner has not yet been released. An investigation into the cause of the collapse began Dec. 4 and is ongoing.