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Federal inspectors have closed the West Elk coal mine near Somerset, CO, after a 53-year-old contract construction worker died from a fall.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration said the worker fell from a catwalk platform and struck a beam. They transported him to Delta County Memorial Hospital where he died.

The man, identified as Fred Benally, 53, of Farmington, New Mexico, may have fallen about 8 feet from a catwalk platform in the mine.

An official conducting an inspection in another part of the coal mine at the time issued an order to close the mine.

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West Elk is an underground mine using the longwall mining method. Longwall mining utilizes an electrically powered shearer to cut the coal. Rotating drums at each end of the machine use carbide cutting bits. Operation of the shearer involves driving the rotating cutting drums into the coal seam while moving along the face conveyor. The mined coal falls from the drums to the face conveyor. Development of mining panels for the longwall utilizes the continuous mining method. Each mining unit consists of one continuous miner, one double-boom roof bolter, one feeder breaker, two or three haulage units, and auxiliary support equipment.

Coal loads onto conveyor belts at the mine face and transports to a 250,000-ton storage pile. After crushing and screening to a nominal two-inch size, the coal conveys to two storage silos and an open stockpile with a total capacity of 123,000 tons. Coal loads into trains of up to 105 cars at a rate of 5,500 tons per hour. A Kanawha batch weighing system certified by the Colorado Department of Agriculture Division of Weights and Measures weighs the coal.

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