- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

BARTON, Md. (AP) — Rescuers yesterday found the bodies of two miners trapped after a wall section collapsed in an open-pit coal mine four days earlier, a federal mine official said.

One body was found in a backhoe the man was operating Tuesday when the two workers were buried beneath 45 feet of debris, said Bob Cornett, acting regional director for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The second body was found a few hours later inside a bulldozer, he said.

Officials identified the backhoe operator as Dale Jones, 52, and the bulldozer operator as Mike Wilt, 37.

Mr. Cornett said the men appeared to have died instantly.

“With the extensive damage I saw on the equipment, I don’t think that we worried whether they suffocated,” he said.

Both pieces of equipment were spotted side by side Thursday night after workers removed thousands of tons of rock and dirt. The Caterpillar trucks normally under the backhoe had been blown sideways and the blade had come off the bulldozer, Mr. Cornett said.

The federal mine agency withheld the miners’ identities, pending notification of the families.

The section of the high wall collapsed at the Tri-Star Mining Inc. site near Barton, about 150 miles west of Baltimore. Trucks hauled about 2,500 tons of debris each hour, with some lengthy delays, from the pile to reach the miners.

“After days of tireless efforts to cut through the rubble and reach the trapped miners, we were saddened to discover that the miners missing since the high-wall collapse on Tuesday morning have died,” said Richard E. Stickler, assistant U.S. secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “We extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to their families.”

Mr. Cornett wiped away tears as he delivered the news of the second miner’s death.

“Mine safety means a lot to me,” he said. “Every injury, every fatality, affects me.”

Heavy rain and the ground freezing and thawing may have been factors in the collapse, Mr. Cornett said.

The investigation will not begin until the equipment is removed and the site safety is ensured, which could take some time, he said.

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