Former Massey Workers Say Blast Wasn't A Surprise Two coal miners say they quit Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in the final months before an explosion because they thought it was going to blow up. Another called the West Virginia mine "a time bomb." But Massey officials insist samples showed the air was safe just before the blast that killed 29 workers.
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Former Massey Workers Say Blast Wasn't A Surprise

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Former Massey Workers Say Blast Wasn't A Surprise

Former Massey Workers Say Blast Wasn't A Surprise

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


NPR's Frank Langfitt has more.

FRANK LANGFITT: At a press conference yesterday, Massey officials insisted they run safe mines. And board member Stanley Suboleski said pre-shift inspections found nothing wrong before the blast.

STANLEY SUBOLESKI: No hazards were found, and methane measurements ranged from zero to nearly zero. There was no indication of a dangerous condition, yet only a few tens of minutes later the explosion occurred.

LANGFITT: Massey CEO Don Blankenship said the company still doesn't know what caused the blast. He insisted that safety always comes first at Massey and that he set up programs long ago to ensure that.

DON BLANKENSHIP: The naming of those two programs speaks for itself: S1 - safety is job one; P2 - production is job two. And that's been the case for my entire tenure.

LANGFITT: Some former Massey workers say Blankenship's got it backwards.

TEDDY COLE: It's supposed to be safety first, but to me it was production first.

BRIAN JERRAL: A lot of times it's production first and safety third.

ADAM VANCE: They cover their self with their safety meetings, but the main thing Massey's out for is to get that almighty dollar. If the coal ain't running, they ain't making no money.

LANGFITT: Bobby Inman has served on Massey's board since 1985. At yesterday's news conference, he said the idea that the company puts profits over people is absurd.

BOBBY INMAN: It's a big lie.

LANGFITT: Inman said Massey's enemies, including resentful unions, have been pushing the idea in the media for the last several weeks.

INMAN: Where did this big lie start? The first came from a plaintiff's lawyer, the second from the president of the AFL-CIO, the third from the president of the AFL-CIO; the fourth use of it from the head of the United Mine Workers.

LANGFITT: Actually, Don Blankenship fueled this idea himself in a 2005 internal memo. Last week, I showed that memo to Ron Fluty. Fluty is a former Massey worker, union member and retired federal mine inspector. He inspected Massey mines for three years. I asked Fluty to read the memo.

RON FLUTY: It says: If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisor, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal - build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever - you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills.

LANGFITT: What does that memo mean?

FLUTY: That means that all safety has been thrown out the door.

LANGFITT: What part of that says safety out the door?

FLUTY: Well, when you don't build overcasts, that's what directs the ventilation to the face, you know, to the areas where the miners are working.

LANGFITT: What's your reaction to this memo?

FLUTY: Listen, this is pitiful. I mean, you know, a lot of times I've thought this, you know, that - things that I've seen has went on at some of these mines. But to see this and read it, I mean it's - to me it's totally devastating.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can follow a timeline of the events surrounding that deadly blast at the coal mine owned by Massey Energy at

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