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Sago Mine investigation focusing on devastating miscommunication

The devastating miscommunication in the Sago Mine disaster — which led the miners’ families to wrongly believe for three hours that 12 dead miners had been rescued alive — is one of the focal points of the state and federal investigation into the Jan. 2 accident, according to West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. The coal-mining accident was the worst in West Virginia since 1968, when 78 miners were killed in a mine explosion in Farmington. The Sago miners died from carbon monoxide intoxication, according to the State Department of Health and Human Resources.

Federal and state mine safety officials said they would hold joint public hearings on the accident, and Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia said federal mine safety officials would be called to testify before a Senate subcommittee that would hold hearings into the disaster beginning January 19.

Senator Jay Rockefeller also called for hearings into the specific issue of coal mine safety. He said congress had not held a comprehensive oversight hearing of the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration since 2001.

Manchin named Davitt McAteer, who oversaw the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) during the Clinton administration, to serve as his consultant, oversee the work of state and federal investigators, and issue a report on the disaster by July 1.

McAteer said legitimate questions exist about the number of citations at Sago Mine, which had 208 alleged violations of federal mine rules in 2005. The mine's owner, International Coal Group Inc., has said it is working to correct the violations inherited from the mine's former owner.

Government records show that he West Virginia coal mine had been cited for hundreds of federal safety violations since it opened in 1999, according to a USA Today report. Among the infractions were at least 16 related to failures to prevent or adequately monitor the buildup of explosive gases in the mine.

A 13th miner, Randal McCloy, survived the disaster and, as of press time, remains in critical condition in a medically induced coma in a Pittsburgh hospital.

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