Coal miner killed in accident at Wyoming’s Black Thunder mine
— August 16, 2013
A coal miner was killed early Friday morning and another miner was injured at the Black Thunder mine in southern Campbell County.
Killed was Jacob Dowdy, age 24, who had worked at the mine for nearly three years. Injured was 38-year-old Mike Lewis of Wright, according to reports. Lewis’ injuries were not life-threatening, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere told WyoFile the accident involved moving equipment. “… a power shovel was traveling up a ramp and rolled back, striking a pickup truck. One miner in the truck was killed, with another trapped in the truck. The second miner was taken to the hospital, but apparently not seriously injured. MSHA has responded and is launching an investigation.”
Keith Williams, president of Thunder Basin Coal Co., issued this statement: “On behalf of Thunder Basin’s Black Thunder mine, we are saddened to confirm that Jacob Dowdy suffered fatal injuries this morning at approximately 12:30 a.m. Mountain time. Mr. Dowdy, 24, had been an employee of Thunder Basin for nearly three years.
“We wish to extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Dowdy’s family, friends and coworkers at this most difficult time,” Williams continued. “We are profoundly saddened by the loss. The safety of our team members remains our number one priority.”
According to miners familiar with Powder River Basin mining operations, a shovel’s brakes should engage even if power is cut. Vehicles are supposed to maintain a safe distance when following a shovel — particularly when it is traveling up a ramp. Conditions were reportedly dry at the mine at the time of the accident.
In 2009, Arch Coal Inc. acquired the Jacobs Ranch mine, merging it with the neighboring Black Thunder mine to create the single largest coal mining complex in the world. The mine operations include six draglines, 22 shovels and 148 haul trucks, according to Arch’s website. The mine employs approximately 1,550 workers. The Black Thunder complex extracted 104.9 million tons of coal in 2011.
Dowdy’s is the third fatality in Black Thunder’s nearly 40-year history. Rick Richardson, 44, died of injuries from a fall at the mine’s processing plant in February 2003. In February 2002, Allen “Big A” Greger was killed when a highwall sloughed crushing the rubber-tire dozer Greger was operating at the bottom of the pit. Just a month before Greger was killed, miner Les Butts was paralyzed in the same pit when a boulder came off the highwall and smashed a vehicle he was driving in the pit. (Read more about the accidents here.)
Seven years after his debilitating accident, a jury awarded Butts $9.46 million. In a rare legal case, Butts was able sue his supervisors for their role in the accident. The jury found defendants Michael Hannifan and Kevin Hampleman guilty of willful and wanton negligence for placing Butts in harm’s way.
Wyoming’s mining industry has its share of fatalities and injuries, but Wyoming’s next-to-worst in the nation workplace fatality record is mostly outside mining. Read this report to learn more about the state’s struggle to cut workplace fatalities.
UPDATE, AUGUST 29: Click here to read MSHA’s preliminary report on the accident that killed Jacob Dowdy. The report states that the shovel was ascending a 9% grade when it lost power and rolled back, crushing two Ford F350 flatbed utility pickups.
— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email email@example.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer
If you enjoyed this report and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.