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Home > Publications > Quill > Winner: Mine Safety & Health News


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Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Winner: Mine Safety & Health News

“The Crandall Canyon Mine Disaster”

Jim Poyser

I could not believe what I was seeing on CNN news and reading on MSHA’s website: a television crew and accompanying reporters, and family members, being allowed inside the Crandall Canyon Mine to view the rescue operations.

What were MSHA and mine owner Robert Murray thinking when they allowed these non-rescue personnel into the mine? — excerpt from Ellen Smith’s editorial, “High Negligence and Reckless Disregard”

On Aug. 6, the Crandall Canyon disaster entrapped six miners when the walls of a large section of the underground coal mine blew out with a force so powerful it registered 3.0 on the Richter scale. The subsequent rescue attempt was harrowing, taking place in the most dangerous conditions in mining history.

Even so, mine owner Robert Murray, along with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, allowed the press to tour underground while the rescue was ensuing — and while walls of the mine were still caving in.

Ellen Smith, editor of Mine Safety and Health News, believed Murray was giving misleading or false information to the press, and she did her best to correct the errors. Distressed that reporters and family members were allowed into the mine, Smith wrote her “High Negligence and Reckless Disregard” editorial, which gained national attention.

Two days later, three rescuers were killed and six injured. The rescue was called off, and the mine was sealed.

Throughout this tragedy, Smith wrote stories and assisted other reporters in their efforts, legal editor Melanie Aclander focused on how the story played out in the court system, and Washington correspondent Kathy Snyder kept abreast of developments on Capitol Hill.

Judges said these three reporters “provided detailed, well-written accounts for the newsletter as well as a special daily e-mail service on the disaster. They provided much-needed context for this type of event, including information about the mine owner’s controversial history with safety violations.”

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