Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 6, 2013

Bluefield rail yard, W.Va. fall silent for UBB Mine explosion anniversary

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Shortly before 3 p.m., on Friday, one of the Norfolk Southern legacy locomotives — a Lehigh Valley-styled locomotive — that was idling beside the NS Locomotive Shops in Bluefield was shut down. At 3:01 p.m., there was silence in the usually busy NS Bluefield yard that had been filled with coal and mixed freight trains a few hours earlier. The railroad said it wasn’t intentional. It just happened.

Two years ago, on April 5, 2011, and again last year on April 5, 2012 — whether by choice or by chance — the NS Bluefield yard was quiet.

On April 5, 2010, the southern West Virginia coalfields suffered the loss of 29 coal miners who died at 3:10 p.m., when an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch Mine near Whitesville in Raleigh County. The sadness that followed was numbing. In the coalfields, most people remember exactly where they were and who they were with when they learned of the tragedy like earlier generations remember Pearl Harbor.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin asked West Virginians to observe a moment of silence at 3:01 p.m., in memory of the 29 coal miners who died in the UBB Mine explosion.

The following coal miners were killed in the blast: Carl Acord, 52; Jason Atkins, 25; Christopher Bell, 33; Gregory Steven Brock, 47; Kenneth Allen Chapman, 53; Robert Clark, 41; Charles Timothy Davis, 51; Cory Davis, 20; Michael Lee Elswick, 56; William I. Griffith, 54; Steven Harrah, 40; Edward Dean Jones, 50; Richard K. Lane, 45; William Lynch, 59; Nicholas Darrell McCroskey, 26; Joe Marcum, 57; Ronald Lee Maynor, 31; James E. Mooney, 50; Adam Keith Morgan, 21; Rex L. Mullins, 50; Joshua S. Napper, 25; Howard D. Payne, 53; Dillard Earl Persinger, 32; Joel R. Price, 55; Deward Scott, 58; Gary Quarles, 33; Grover Dale Skeens, 57; Benny Willingham, 61; and Ricky Workman, 50.

“Three years ago, during the hours and days after the unspeakable mining tragedy at Upper Big Branch, I grieved with the miners’ families and all West Virginians,” U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, was quoted as saying in a statement released from his office. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the courage, sacrifice and extraordinary strength of our miners and their families, but on this sad anniversary, my heart and prayers go out to our beloved 29 miners and their loved ones.

“I want to assure those families, the people of our state and this country that we’re absolutely and totally committed to the safety of every mining worker. Our miners should wake up in the morning and expect to come home safely to their loved ones at night,” according to Manchin’s statement.

“I will continue to work with all my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to continue to make the needed safety changes to prevent casualties like this from ever occurring again. By bringing the responsible parties to justice, we can't bring our loved ones back, but hopefully we will prevent another tragedy from robbing us of our beloved miners,” he stated. “We will never forget.”

Tomblin attended a ceremony marking the date at the Coal Miner Statue in Charleston, according to the Associated Press.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com