MSHA Cites Mine Operators in Fatal Rhino Mine Collapse


As Christmas approaches, the hole left in the hearts of the family of Elam Jones remains painful. His children will go through the season without the father they love. Jones, 29,  was killed on March 22 when a wall at the Rhino Mine in Huntington Canyon blew out. Dallen McFarlane was also caught in the collapse, but was rescued.

On Monday, Mine Safety and Health Administration released its findings on the cause of the collapse and found that for multiple shifts, the operator was aware that the 20-foot cut width and ensuing rib slough age exposed miners to excessive widths on the 5th Left C pillar section. In plain terms, they were aware that the roof bolts being used were not adequate to support the span being mined.

The site-specific approved roof control plan was not adequate for the conditions encountered. This fatal accident occurred when several bolts broke and allowed a slab of the roof to fall. The roof support system was inadequate for the large spans that had developed. The roof bolts and position of the MRS units were inadequate in supporting the immediate roof where the miners were working.

Two citations were issued to the owners of Castle Valley Mining, LLC. One for being aware of conditions resulting in a fatality. The second was for roof support machines being too far from the continuous miner in the number three entry.

Jones’ mother Julie Jones was glad the report is out and things continue to move forward. She is relieved that MSHA assures her these problems have been fixed so no other family has to endure the heartache they are still dealing with. However, she is saddened that her two grandsons will not know their father because of something that possibly could have been prevented if action would have been taken as soon as the mine operators were aware of the problems.

“I wish it had been taken care of before the accident happened. I can’t change what has happened and being angry won’t bring back my son,” she said on Tuesday. “But it still leaves a hole and the holidays are approaching. A five and six-year-old will probably never know their father because of something that could have been prevented.” For now, Jones is hoping that things have changed at the mine because she never wants another family to go through what they have.

Huntingon Mayor Hilary Gordon was frustrated at the company for not being more forthcoming with information and support to the family. “It wasn’t safe. They should be more forthcoming with compensation. What is a life worth? Compensation won’t bring him (Elam) back. It seems like they were all very supportive the night of the accident, but it seems to have changed.”

At this time, there has been no financial penalty assessed and there is a 30-day period in which the mine operators can either accept or challenge the ruling.


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