3 Killed In Fall From Mine Construction Basket

Men Tumbled 500 Feet Into Shaft, Officials Say

Three men were killed Friday when they fell 500 feet from a bucket in an air shaft they were helping to construct at a southwestern Indiana coal mine, officials said.

The open-top bucket, which is used to lower people down the shaft at the Gibson County Coal mine, shifted somehow as it was descending, according to Frontier-Kemper Constructors Inc., which is building the 550-foot vertical ventilation shaft.

The men fell from the bucket shortly before 11 a.m. CDT, according to police and the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"They were in a bucket-like device, and apparently they somehow got out of it, and they (died)," said George Ballard, chief deputy of the Gibson County Sheriff's Department.

All others at the building site have been accounted for, said George Zugel, corporate director of safety and health for Frontier-Kemper. All three bodies had been recovered by 4:30 p.m. CDT, 6News' Derrik Thomas reported.

The names of the deceased were being withheld pending notification of next of kin, Zugel said.

The men who died worked for Frontier-Kemper, the Princeton Daily Clarion reported. The Clarion reported that people doing such construction work have to be licensed miners, and that the three who were killed were believed to be licensed miners.

Frontier-Kemper construction worker John Ervin, who is assigned to the site but wasn't working on Friday, said he normally feels safe in the bucket from which his co-workers fell. "It does sway when you sway it, but other than that, it's got a thing on it to hold it still and make sure it doesn't spin," he said.

Frontier-Kemper worker John Ervin said the bucket is inspected daily, holds six to 10 people and is about 6 feet high.

"I don't understand how this could have happened," Ervin said.

Ervin said typically at the start of a shift the bucket takes about six people down to the work area at the bottom of the shaft. He said he felt safe in the bucket.

"There's nothing under it. It does sway when you sway it, but other than that, it's got a thing on it to hold it still and make sure it doesn't spin," he said.

Ervin said he wasn't working when his co-workers died. He said the incident has shaken him.

"It scares me a lot that it could have been me," Ervin said. "I didn't really know them. I said 'hi' to them on the way in and on the way out. That's ... as much as I knew them."

A firefighter with knowledge of the situation told 6News that a dispatcher initially said one person died in the incident and that two helicopters were being sent to the scene. The dispatcher later said the helicopters were turned back because others had died and there was no one else to take to a hospital, the firefighter said.

The Indiana Department of Labor was trying to confirm details of the accident, said spokesman Sean Keefer. Officials from that agency and the Indiana Bureau of Mines are at the mine investigating, he said.

The air shaft construction site is near Princeton and about 30 miles north of Evansville.

The state's labor commissioner, Lori Torres, planned to visited the site Friday, a state Labor Department representative said.

The mine, owned by Tulsa, Okla.-based Alliance Resource Partners, is about 30 miles north of Evansville.

Debbie King, executive assistant for investor relations at Alliance Resource Partners, said the accident was not connected to the mine.

"It is a construction accident. We can't report on it because it's not our accident," she said.

Last Death At Mine Happened In 2001

According to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's Web site, the last fatality at the mine was in November 2001, when a miner died when he was pinned by equipment. That accident was blamed on operator error.

The mine reported 68 accidents in 2006, seven of which resulted in workers having to take time off the job, according to the Indian Bureau of Mines. The term "accident" covers a wide range of things, including wrecking a car on company time, the bureau said.

The mine, which began production in July 2000, produces low-sulfur coal. Its main customer is Duke Energy Corp.

In 2006, the company produced more than 3.5 million tons of coal, ranking second among the state's coal producers, according to the Indiana Coal Council.

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