Coal Tattoo

The Sago Mine Disaster, Jan. 2, 2006

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years today since the explosion at International Coal Group’s Sago Mine in Upshur County, W.Va., that killed these 12 men and nearly killed their coworker, Randal McCloy.

Their names, from left to right and top to bottom:

Tom Anderson, Terry Helms, Marty Bennett, Martin Toler, Marshall Winans, Junior Hamner, Jesse Jones, Jerry Groves, James Bennett, Jackie Weaver, Fred Ware, and David Lewis.

And after three other major mining accidents that followed — Aracoma, Darby and Crandall Canyon — it’s even harder to believe that 2010 turned out to be still worse.

Twenty-nine West Virginia coal miners died in the April 5 explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, and through late last week, 19 other U.S. coal miners had been killed on the job in 2010. Nationwide, it’s the deadliest year for the coal industry since 1992. Here in West Virginia, the 35 coal-mining deaths through Dec. 29 ranked as the worst year since 1979.

What MSHA chief Joe Main said recently about the Upper Big Branch families undoubtedly is true for the families of all of these fallen miners:

No one knows the real suffering and pain that these folks go through. It’s awful. Life changed forever for them.

And as I’ve said before, it’s always worth remembering these words from the last Sen. Robert C. Byrd, spoken on the Senate floor after Sago:

I’ve seen it all before. First, the disaster, then the weeping and then the outrage. But in a few weeks, when the outrage is gone, when the ink on the editorials is dry, everything returns to business as usual.