Craig man dies in mine explosion |

Craig man dies in mine explosion

Christina M. Currie

— For the first time in its 22-year history, a fatality occurred at Trapper Mine south of Craig.

Joseph Koonce, 42, died instantly after a primer on the mine’s blast pattern detonated unexpectedly a little before 11 a.m. Thursday.

Two other miners were with Koonce at the time of the explosion, but they were 12- to 15-feet away and were not injured, Trapper Mine Manager Gordon Peters said.

Koonce worked for Trapper Mine for 18 years and had seven years experience in blasting operations as a “blast helper.” There is a state certification for blasters. Peters said Koonce was properly certified as a blaster.

According to Tommy Hooker, assistant district manager for the District 9 office of the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), preliminary data shows that blasting caps used to ignite a booster detonated before they were supposed to.

“That is not supposed to happen,” Hooker said.

The result was a small, but deadly explosion.

Blasting caps are assembled into a booster and lowered into a hole where explosive mixtures are added. Other explosives had not been added at the time of the explosion.

“Preliminarily, it appears the boosters went off prematurely,” Hooker said.

The explosion did not cause any fires in the vicinity.

Officials said it is too early in the investigation to tell if the error was human or mechanical.

“I seriously doubt whether the investigation will find out what caused the accident,” Peters said.

Moffat County Sheriff’s Department officers were called to help Trapper Mine officials secure the scene. Officers took video and still pictures at the scene material that will be used in the upcoming investigation.

MSHA is investigating the accident. According to Hooker, there will be a team of investigators on site today who should have preliminary data by the close of business. Hooker expects the investigation to be complete by the middle of next week.

“Our primary concern will be to find out what caused the accident and what we can do to help prevent a similar occurrence,” he said.

The mine was closed after the accident and will run on a skeletal crew through today. Peters said it is too early to judge the emotional reaction of Trapper Mine employees, but said there is a sense of sadness and shock.