updated 10/23/2006 11:21:14 PM ET 2006-10-24T03:21:14

An explosion in a coal mine killed a miner Monday, but five others escaped, authorities said.

The blast happened 2,300 feet underground at the R&D Coal Co. anthracite mine in Schuylkill County, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It appeared the blast occurred when miners detonated explosives, said Dirk Fillpot, spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The victim was Dale Reightler, 43, of Donaldson, according to his brother-in-law Charles Kimmel. Kimmel said the coal mine’s owner also told the family Reightler was killed when explosives went off.

“All they know is they fired (the explosives),” Kimmel said. “They don’t know if there was gas there and it went off. They won’t know until they get it aired out and get up there tomorrow.”

State and federal investigators were trying to determine the cause of the accident, the state Department of Environmental Protection said. Regulators ordered the mine closed until an investigation is complete.

Fillpot said the miners had checked for methane gas before the 10:30 a.m. detonation, but didn’t detect any.

State officials were being cautious about calling the incident an explosion, saying it was too dangerous to go down into the mine shaft to investigate because the incident knocked out the mine’s ventilation system. They hoped to have it restored Tuesday.

“Right now, it’s a mining accident, a fatal mine accident, and that’s what we’re terming it until the investigation concludes,” said Mark Carmon, a DEP spokesman.

The five miners who escaped were being interviewed, Carmon said.

The mine is in a remote, mountainous region in eastern Pennsylvania. A June inspection turned up no violations, while an August inspection found brush surrounding an exhaust fan that was cleared while the inspector was on site, according to state officials.

Four workers at the mine were injured Dec. 1, 2004, by debris from an explosion caused by a pipe with a faulty gauge, state officials said. The mine reopened after installing safety equipment, and two inspections this year turned up no significant violations, the state agency said.

The victim’s neighbors were taking food to his family’s home in the tightly knit mining community, neighbor Diana Carra said.

“The folks here really take care of each other,” she said.

The owner of the coal company, Stu Himmelberger, was at Reightler’s house Monday night to comfort the family but did not talk to a reporter. Kimmel, who also was at the home, said Reightler had worked in the mines since age 16, but dreamed of moving his wife and four children and setting up an auto repair business.

“He was going to give it up and go into auto repair full time,” Kimmel said. “I guess that ain’t going to happen.”

The area has the nation’s only deposits of anthracite, a type of hard, relatively clean-burning coal that once heated millions of homes but now represents a tiny sliver of the U.S. coal industry. The mines still operating are typically small, with only a few miners.

So far this year, there have been 41 other deaths in U.S. coal-mine accidents, none in Pennsylvania. In the deadliest accident, 12 men were killed at the Sago Mine in northern West Virginia in January.

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