CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The father of a power plant worker plucked off a burning 100-story smokestack says his son complained about safety issues only days before fire erupted at the facility.
Workers were installing a fiberglass lining inside the power plant's stack when the fire broke out Saturday. Three workers were briefly trapped and a fourth was missing and presumed dead.
David Earley II, one of the rescued workers, had complained that a hoist used to lift materials and workers had no brakes and was held aloft only by its gears, his father, David Earley, told The Associated Press.
"There needs to be a safe alternative to get people down," the elder Earley said Sunday night about American Electric Power's Kammer-Mitchell plant. "My son asked for that."
Earley, 29, of New Matamoras, Ohio; Jay McDonald, 59, of Kanab, Utah; and Timothy Wells, 36, of New Martinsville, were trapped for two hours above the flames before a dramatic rescue by a police helicopter.
McDonald was in good condition Sunday night at a Pittsburgh hospital, while Earley and Wells were treated and released. The workers are employed by Pullman Power LLC of Kansas City, Mo.
American Electric Power spokeswoman Carmen Prati-Miller said early Monday she was unaware of any of the safety concerns raised by Earley and could not comment. She referred questions to Pullman, which did not immediately return a telephone message.
The cause of the fire had not been determined Sunday. The stack liner was destroyed, and large amounts of debris were lying in the stack's base. Pullman engineers will determine when it will be safe for crews resume a search.
Earley said his son, who was terrified of heights, usually operated equipment from the ground but was told Saturday night to go to the top of the stack.
"They told him if he didn't get up there he would be fired," the elder Earley said. "My son didn't have an air pack or safety harness. He called down and said he needed a safety harness and someone sent one up. All them boys would be dead if they didn't have a safety harness."
Marshall County Sheriff John Gruzinskas said the missing worker has two small children and his wife is seven months pregnant. His name won't be released until his body is recovered, the sheriff said.
Earley's son described a terrifying ordeal to his father, one in which he said his stomach and thighs were burned through three layers of clothes he was wearing.
"The boys held on to each other and prayed," Earley said. "They thought the stack was coming down. The air luckily enough was blowing some of the smoke away from them and they could get some fresh air. They had to keep putting the fire out on each other because their clothes would catch fire."
Earley said his son was the only one with a working radio and talked to his co-worker who is believed to have died "right until his last breath."
"He can't talk to me about what that boy told him," Earley said. "David is OK physically. Mentally he's a basket case. He just keeps crying."
American Electric Power is upgrading the coal-fired power plant to bring it into compliance with federal air pollution regulations. The plant is about 68 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.