Ryan McFadden  /  Reading Eagle
Workers gather at the scene of a coal mine owned by R&D Coal Co. near Tremont Township, Pa., on Monday.
updated 10/24/2006 11:53:39 AM ET 2006-10-24T15:53:39

After more than 25 years of working in Pennsylvania’s coal mines, Dale Reightler was itching to open his own auto repair shop and build that race car he and his buddies had always talked about.

“And now, this,” said Charles Kimmel, Reightler’s lifelong friend and brother-in-law. “Now, we might just build a race car and let his two boys run it. In memory of him.”

Reightler was killed Monday in an explosion half a mile deep in an R&D Coal Co. anthracite mine in a remote, mountainous region of Tremont Township, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Authorities initially said five other miners escaped, but on Tuesday they said six had emerged from the mine safely.

The blast appeared to have occurred when miners detonated explosives, said Dirk Fillpot, spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The miners had checked for methane gas before the 10:30 a.m. detonation but didn’t detect any, he said.

Ventilation system knocked out
The accident initially knocked out the mine’s ventilation system, making it too dangerous for investigators to go down into the mine shaft. Officials restored the ventilation system and a team of safety experts was advancing toward the scene of the accident Tuesday morning, according to DEP spokesman Kurt Knaus.

“A first team will make its way to the accident site to make sure the route is secure. If it’s deemed secure and no work needs to be done, then the investigative team will move in to do their work,” he said.

A June inspection turned up no safety violations, while an August inspection found brush surrounding an exhaust fan that was cleared while the inspector was on site, according to the DEP.

Previous accident
Less than two years ago, four workers at the same mine were injured by flying debris and coal from an explosion caused by a pipe with a faulty gauge, according to state officials. R&D was allowed to reopen after installing safety equipment following the accident.

Eastern Pennsylvania 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 sliver of the U.S. coal industry.

The anthracite mines that still exist are typically very small operations employing only a handful of miners.

Federal and state regulators ordered the mine closed until the investigation is complete.

Reightler, who had worked in the mines since high school, leaves behind a wife and four children.

There have been 41 other deaths in U.S. coal-mine accidents this year, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The deadliest was in January, when 12 were killed at the Sago mine in West Virginia.

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