The roof of a coal mine collapsed suddenly, killing one miner, and rescue crews were searching for another who could be trapped in or behind a wall of fallen rocks, authorities said Thursday.
The 400-square-foot section of roof gave way around midnight as a crew of about eight performed retreat mining, which involves removing coal pillars that support the roof, said Paris Charles, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.
The first miner's body was recovered from Stillhouse Mining Mine No. 1 just outside Cumberland before dawn Thursday, Charles said.
About 20 rescue workers were trying to find the other man Thursday afternoon.
Hoping for the best for missing miner
The rescuers don't know whether the missing miner is behind the fallen rocks or beneath them, Charles said. If he is trapped behind the fallen rocks, "in all likelihood" he would have enough oxygen to survive until rescue crews arrive, Charles said.
"We always hope for the best," he said.
A mine inspector working on the rescue was injured when a rock fell on him, said Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Environmental Protection and Public Protection Cabinet. He was taken to a hospital and his condition was not immediately known, but he was described as alert and was able to get out from under the rock on his own, Wolfe said.
Officials did not immediately identify the rescuer or the two miners. A man at the scene said the dead miner was his 24-year-old brother, Brandon Wilder, who was married with a 2-year-old daughter and another baby due in December.
"We are not blaming anybody," Travis Wilder said. "It was just an accident."
"He loved his job. He loved supporting his family," Travis Wilder said.
Miners working nearby said reported that they had no warning that the 11-foot-high roof, which was about 20 feet wide and 20 feet long, was about to give way, Charles said. Normally, miners would hear bumping noises and see smaller rocks falling before a major roof collapse.
A miner who was outside at the time, Anthony Randall, said the mine is considered safe. "They are good people to work for," he said. "Accidents happen."
Fellow miners were saddened by the death, he said. "Everybody in here is like family," he said.
Stillhouse is owned by Black Mountain Resources, a division of Cumberland Resources. The mine in southeastern Kentucky has been in operation since 1999 and has 73 employees.
Charles called retreat mining "one of the more dangerous aspects of mining."
In recent years, between 27 and 42 coal miners have been killed annually in U.S. mine accidents, according to the Web site of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.