Upper Big Branch is the coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia that experienced the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years. On April 5, 2010, an explosion killed 29 miners. Three investigations concluded that the explosion was preventable, and was “the result of a failure to heed basic safety rules.” Don Blankenship, the Chairman and CEO of the sixth largest coal mining company in the US (Massey Energy Company) that owns the mine, was found guilty of “conspiring to willfully violate mine safety laws.” It is the first time a CEO had been found guilty of a work safety crime. Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year sentence. He’ll be sentenced April 6.
60 Minutes air its investigative report on Upper Big Branch on Sunday, March 6 at 7pm on CBS. When asked for a comment, Blankenship’s lawyers wrote in a letter that “there was no evidence their client participated in any conspiracy and that the explosion was caused by a sudden burst of natural gas.” Stanley Stewart, a miner who survived the explosion said, “That was not an Act of God. That was man-made 100 percent.” As 60 Minutes will show, the jury that decided Blankenship’s guilt was shocked to learn that the max sentence he could receive was a year.