Officials look back on Sago mining disaster

SAGO – State and local officials on Thursday commemorated the eighth anniversary of the Sago mining disaster by extending condolences to family members who lost loved ones and pushing for stricter legislation that would enhance the safety of coal miners.

On Jan. 2, 2006, a coal mine explosion and subsequent collapse at the Sago Mine, owned by Wolf Run Mining Company, trapped 13 miners approximately 2.5 miles underground for nearly two days. The sole survivor of the tragedy was miner Randal McCloy Jr.

Following the tragedy, signs in the parking lots of many Upshur County businesses asking passersby to “pray for our miners” lined Route 20.

“It had a great impact on the county,” Upshur County Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady said Thursday. “The people in the mine were good individuals with families, and you just never expect a tragedy like that to happen here. It reaches out and touches everybody.”

Upshur Commissioner JC Raffety said the disaster is one that’s unparalleled in the area.

“To say this was a tragedy would be an understatement,” Raffety said Thursday. “It was a horrific event, and in fact, I believe it was a loss of life that’s unequaled in Upshur County history. It is a loss that still brings sorrow to the families and friends of those souls lost at Sago.”

“It is my hope that in the ensuing years appropriate attention has been focused on mine safety at the state and federal agencies responsible for that,” he added.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., issued the following statement Thursday in remembrance of the disaster at Sago:

“I don’t think any West Virginian remembers this day without heartache and profound sadness,” he wrote. “Like all of us, my thoughts and prayers today remain with the families and the community that suffered this awful tragedy. It should never take a tragedy – or the anniversary of one – to remind us that mining coal is a dangerous job, and the men and women who do it for a living deserve every protection we can offer. We made some strides immediately after Sago, but it’s just not enough. We need to do more. We need these tragedies to stop.

“We need to build on the mine safety improvements we made in the wake of the Sago disaster – and those we’ve fought for after the tragedy of Upper Big Branch,” Rockefeller continued. “Immediately after UBB, I introduced comprehensive mine safety legislation that takes the lessons learned at UBB and puts them into action. And I’ve introduced that bill in each of the past four years and will continue to fight for its passage. West Virginia coal miners and their families are counting on us to finally make needed changes. We cannot afford to waste any more time and put any more lives at risk.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was on scene at the Sago Mine as the disaster unfolded, reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring the safety of coal miners in the Mountain State with his own statement Thursday.

“Eight years ago, the precious lives of 12 miners were taken tragically at Sago,” Manchin said. “On that day, I grieved with the miners’ families and with all West Virginians. Their strength and sacrifice remain in my heart each and every day, and my thoughts and prayers go out to them and their loved ones on this sad anniversary.

“Since Sago, we have made tremendous strides to improve mine safety by passing historic legislation, and today serves as a reminder that we must continue to make improvements so that our miners’ lives are never in jeopardy,” he added. “The safety of our workers is our number one priority, and I remain absolutely and totally committed to making sure our miners come home safely after every shift.”