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Crandall Canyon: MSHA report lays blame; epitaph soon to be written
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A stage set for disaster. Men hurtling toward fate. A deep mine destined to fail. Crandall Canyon.

On Aug. 6 last, it happened. The mountain pressed, the floor buckled, the pillars of coal that supported the roof exploded. Lights and lives were extinguished.

It's been nearly a year since the dirty secrets, the failures of regulators and engineering deficiencies, were revealed in a deluge of coal and rock raining death 2,000 feet below the reach of the sun.

The funerals have been held, the mine sealed, a memorial erected. Six restive souls entombed; three others laid out in their finest, heroic in death, their desperate attempt at rescue horribly failed.

We've known the who and what, the when and where and how, for quite some time now. We've seen the statistics, counted the dead and injured, the orphaned and widowed. Now we know the final score. Now, at last, we know why.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency that failed the Crandall Canyon miners ignobly, briefed the families of the dead and released the results of its exhaustive investigation Thursday. Bloodless fines were tallied, a record $1.6 million for the operator, $220,000 for the engineer. Violations were listed, cold and technical words that understate the heartless havoc wreaked.

It didn't have to happen. The mountain served fair warning. Prior pillar bursts - two in March, another three days before that fateful night - were prescient.

The mine operator failed to report those bursts to MSHA, and neglected to revise the roof control plan to address deteriorating conditions in the mine, as required by law. Those omissions, coupled with faulty engineering and the mining of coal in prohibited areas, frame the official record, printed in black on white.

But at the root of this needless disaster, unearthed only by conjecture, lie unanswered questions. Corporate greed? Perhaps. Criminal negligence? Perhaps. A callous gamble for coal, human beings anted? Of that, there is no doubt.

The book on Crandall Canyon is not yet closed.

Appeals of the MSHA citations are possible, even likely. The Department of Justice, at the behest of Congress, will take the criminal measure of the authors of this tragedy. The Department of Labor may pass judgment on its ugly stepchildren - the MSHA employees who failed the deceased.

And the families of the victims will have their day in court, and likely find that victory rings hollow. That it will not, cannot, stir the dead.

But at the root of this needless disaster, unearthed only by conjecture, lie unanswered questions. Corporate greed? Perhaps. Criminal negligence? Perhaps. A callous gamble for coal, human beings anted? Of that, there is no doubt.

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