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Crandall Canyon: Tragedy to misery for inspector

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Frank Markosek-crandall

The Crandall Canyon Disaster left MSHA Inspector Frank Markosek with a long scar on his head. Photo by Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake  Tribune

My friend Mike Gorrell at The Salt Lake Tribune is one of the best coal journalists in the business. And he had a remarkable story this week, about the aftermath of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster.

The story, For Mine Inspector, Tragedy Led to Misery, focuses on Frank Markosek, a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector who risked his life trying to save the six miners trapped deep inside the Murray Energy mine in the summer of 2007. Mike wrote it better than I ever could, so here’s what he reported about Markosek:

For his efforts, he has endured 2½ years of physical and mental anguish from injuries suffered when a mine wall blew in on the rescuers — killing three, wounding six — and from the bureaucratic nightmare that followed.

The experience has left the third-generation miner asking, “Why am I being punished because I didn’t die?”

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) - Report of Investi

An MSHA photo of the site of the Aug. 16 “bump” at Crandall Canyon that killed two workers and an MSHA employee and injured six others. All were trying to rescue six miners trapped by a previous bump.

As Mike Gorrell reports, Markosek was convinced by Labor Department officials to join in a lawsuit over the disaster. And once it was settled, the government came after him to force him to repay what had been spent on his medical expenses. Mike reported:

Markosek, 59, cannot disclose how much money that is, citing a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement (whose value also has not been revealed). But the reimbursement easily exceeded six figures — a sizable portion of his share of the settlement.

“Congressmen probably go to dinner on that much [money],” he said sarcastically. “But to me, that’s a bunch of living.”

Markosek wasn’t the only one affected by this:

Lola Jensen had to repay medical expenses incurred by her late husband, Gary, also a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspector, in the few hours he lived after being injured in the blast. Because he died that night, her debt was much smaller.

Click here and read the whole story, especially the parts where Markosek describes the emotional and physical effects of the disaster on he and his family  … I’ll just mention this one other point:

Markosek is retired, on long-term disability. His retirement party was held last September at the Carbon Country Club. MSHA’s top coal official, Kevin Stricklin, attended. For his service to the agency, Markosek received a safety lamp.

Frank Markosek 1 aeh

Photo by Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake  Tribune