Crandall Canyon rescuer dies in coal mine collapse
By Mike Gorrell and kimball bennion
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 22 2013 04:39PM
A Huntington man involved in the ill-fated rescue operation at the Crandall Canyon mine in 2007 was killed Friday afternoon when part of a tunnel roof fell on him in the Rhino coal mine near the mouth of Huntington Canyon in Emery County.
Another miner was hurt. He was transported to Castleview Hospital in Price, where he was treated and released, said hospital emergency room employee Sue Copinga.
Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon identified the dead man as Elam Jones, 2, son of Huntington City Councilwoman Julie Jones and her husband, Derk. He leaves behind a wife and two boys, ages 4 and 5. His injured compatriot was Dallen McFarlane.
Justin Miller was a childhood friend of Jones and worked with him and McFarlane at the mine until six months ago, when he left.
"They were in my crew and I worked with them every day," Miller said of Jones, a continuous mining machine operator, and McFarlane, who handled a cable attached to the coal-cutting equipment. "We were good buddies. We all went hunting together. We didn’t know each other just from work."
Miller, who grew up in Huntington, blocks away from Jones’ house, said he had heard that a large slab fell and hit Jones and McFarlane.
Jones was 23 when he participated in the rescue operation at Crandall Canyon, where three rescuers died and six were injured when a wall of coal blew in on them while they were digging through a debris-filled tunnel in a futile effort to reach six miners missing after a much larger mine implosion 10 days earlier.
At the time, Julie Jones said Elam told her, "it’s scary mom, but I have to be there. I have to do my job."
He later spoke at a vigil in Price, where residents of Utah’s coal country were raising money for the families of the dead and injured Crandall Canyon miners.
"Everybody who was up there put in 100 percent," Jones told the solemn crowd, including Crandall victims’ survivors. "We did everything we possibly could. But the mountain won’t let us do nothing else."
Friday’s accident was reported about 3 p.m. as a cave-in with two victims. McFarlane was rescued fairly quickly. But at 6:09 p.m., a tweet from Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Management, disclosed "sad news from Rhino mine. … [Rhino’s mine rescue] team has recovered body of second miner from the collapse. Heartbreaking day for Emery County."
Technically known as Castle Valley No. 4, the mine has been owned since August of 2010 by Lexington, Ky.-based Rhino Resource Partners. At that time, Rhino acquired a couple of mines, reserve coal deposits and underground mining equipment from C.W. Mining Co., a company owned by the polygamous Kingston family.
Rhino Resource issued a statement Monday expressing its "deepest sorrow" at the death of "our friend and co-worker," and said the company is cooperating with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) investigation. The mine has been idled temporarily "while the investigation takes place," said the release from company spokesman Scott Morris.
According to MSHA’s online records, the company employed 68 people at the end of 2012, a year when it excavated 1 million tons of steam coal. That was up from 572,000 tons in 2011. The mine yielded 633,000 tons in 2009, when it was part of C.W. Mining.
MSHA’s records show the mine had a roof fall in which no one was hurt on Oct. 7, 2012. The mine had one injury in 146,000 hours worked during 2012, an incident rate of 1.37. The national rate is 3.23.
The company has received 11 citations from MSHA inspectors this month, none of which was deemed "significant and substantial." The most recent citation, on Thursday, dealt with "worked-out areas and areas where [coal] pillars are being [excavated]," according to MSHA’s records.
Rhino also operates the McClane Canyon mine in Loma, Colo., and has operations in central and northern Appalachia.
The Rhino mine is several miles down Huntington Canyon from the Crandall Canyon mine, in a side canyon known as Bear Canyon.
Jim Dalrymple II contributed to this story.