The sister of one of the 29 miners who died in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion shared her memories from the tragedy in an interview released today, the day before the four year anniversary of the disaster.
Dr. Judy Petersen, brother of UBB victim Edward Dean Jones, asked the interview be released in response to the film recently funded by ex-Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship.
The interview is part of a film called “Blood on the Mountain,” a project by Mari-Lynn Evans about her take on industry’s part in the history of West Virginia.
“Upon hearing of Blankenship’s film documentary, Dr. Petersen and Evans decided to release this interview so that a family member’s side of the story could be told,” Evans said in a news release.
Warning: the 20 minute interview is intense and at times very graphic.
Petersen talks about going to the mine after she’d heard from a mine official that her brother had died. Then, after arriving at the mine, she says she was told her brother was unaccounted for.
“All of a sudden it clicked in my brain my brother’s in the emergency chamber. He’s ok.”
She continues her remembrance of April 6, 2010 (the day after the explosions):
“I just hooked on to that piece of information. We were looking for hope. We we looking for something. And I hooked on to that piece of information and believed with all of my heart that my brother was in that chamber. That he was alive, in that chamber, waiting for us to come and get him. “
Fighting back tears, she says coal officials knew all along the three men unaccounted for could not have survived the blast.
“They led us on. But it wasn’t until that last night, (then MasseyEnergy executive ) Chris Adkins stood on that stage and said ‘All men accounted for, no survivors’ that we knew my brother was gone. We we praying, we were begging for his life. It was only then we knew he was gone. “
Petersen describes the family receiving her brother’s body. Again, it’s a very graphic description.
Looking ahead, Petersen said she’s very much hopeful “justice” will happen for all of the families and friends of the UBB victims. For Petersen–and many other family members and friends who recently gathered in Charleston–justice means Blankenship and other leaders of Massey at the time going to jail.
Blankenship has never been charged with a crime, and denies any wrong doing.
Overall, Petersen said her goal in speaking out is to try and encourage a shift in coal mining culture that continues to stress safety.
“I can’t get my brother back. The other families can’t get their family members back. But we can hope that this doesn’t happen to anybody else. “
Several state and federal officials issued statements about the four year anniversary of UBB.
- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin: “I encourage West Virginians to take a moment to visit the memorial in the Culture Center Great Hall—share your thoughts and prayers and pay tribute to the 29 miners and their families. Joanne and I also ask West Virginians to join us in a moment of silence, tomorrow at 3:01 p.m., to honor their memory.”
- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (governor at the time of the disaster): “This day will always serve as a reminder — a reminder of the love shared for our fallen brothers, a reminder that life is often too short and a reminder that we must always put safety first. The health and safety of our miners will always be our top priority, because no family should ever endure a preventable tragedy like the one at Upper Big Branch again. Although we have much to mourn today, Gayle and I – and all West Virginians – honor the memories of the dedicated souls who lost their lives, as well as their colleagues who continue their work with respect and dignity.”
- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller: “We must be focused only on remembering the 29 men who we tragically lost four years ago—and the families they left behind, who live every day with heartbreak because of that horrific disaster. Along with West Virginians everywhere, Sharon and I are praying for the friends and loved ones of the Upper Big Branch miners, and for the community that was forever changed by the tragedy.”
- Rep. Nick Rahall: “The Upper Big Branch miners are still owed our full energies and every effort to ensure that such a tragedy will never occur again. Failing to legislate to close safety loopholes exploited by Massey is akin to condoning the corrupt culture that resulted in so many unnecessary fatalities.”