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Coal mine collapse in West Virginia kills two miners

By Annie Moore

BECKLEY, West Virginia (Reuters) - A West Virginia coal mine collapsed, killing two miners during an operation that had been one of the most hazardous in the industry, officials and the company said on Tuesday.

A "ground failure" caused the Patriot Coal Corp's Brody Mine No. 1 to collapse at about 8:30 p.m. on Monday, trapping two miners, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a statement.

The miners, both from West Virginia, were identified as Eric Legg, 48, of Twilight and Gary Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville. The men's bodies have been recovered.

"We express our deepest sympathies to Eric's and Gary's families, friends and co-workers," Mike Day, Patriot's executive vice president for operations, said in a statement.

He said the St. Louis-based company was cooperating with state and federal regulators investigating the accident.

Patriot said the incident took place as workers were carrying out retreat mining, which involves mining coal and leaving pillars behind to support the mine roof. When mining is completed, the pillars are collapsed and removed.

From 2003 to 2007, seven U.S. miners were killed in retreat mining, but the number fell to zero from 2008 to 2012, Mine Safety data shows.

The Brody mine is part of the Wells Mining Complex near Wharton, in West Virginia's Boone County.

Mine Safety data for the Brody mine shows that the rate of days lost because of accidents there has been above the national average since 2006. (http://www.msha.gov/drs/ASP/MineAction.asp)

The two deaths raised the number of U.S. coal mining fatalities this year to five, and there were 20 in 2013, according to Mine Safety data.

Those numbers spiked to 48 in 2010, when 29 miners were killed in an explosion at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Mine.

West Virginia is one of the biggest U.S. producers of coal and leads states in coal-mining deaths, Mine Safety numbers show. Before Monday's accident, the state recorded 124 deaths since 2003, about 39 percent of the U.S. total.

The Brody Mine averaged 262 underground workers in the first quarter of this year, data show.

Separately, Patriot said on Monday it was temporarily idling its Highland mine complex near Henderson, Kentucky. It cited a structural failure that damaged part of the Camp Preparation Plant last week.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Sofina Mirza-Reid, Meredith Mazzilli and Gunna Dickson)

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