CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A large crane operating at the Black Thunder Mine in northeast Wyoming collapsed and blocked a rail line on Saturday, injuring up to three people, a federal mine official said.
Bill Denning, spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in Denver, said federal inspectors were on their way to the coal mine, about 180 miles north of Cheyenne.
Denning said there were no reports of any deaths in the accident. He said his agency will issue an order shutting down operations there while agency officials conduct an investigation.
Bruce Stemp, director of safety for crane company Lampson International in Washington State, said Saturday that his company's crane was involved. He said company representatives were on their way to the scene.
"At this point, all I can do is confirm that there was an accident up there with the crane, and that is all the information we have," Stemp said.
Attempts to reach officials with the Thunder Basin Coal Company, which operates the mine, were not immediately successful Saturday afternoon.
Truman Cavender, a security officer at the mine 12 miles east of Wright, said he was ordered to call for ambulances early Saturday afternoon. He said the accident occurred at a new construction site, about seven miles from the mine headquarters.
Deputy Kevin Theis of the Campbell County Sheriff's Office in Gillette said the department received a call about the collapse shortly after noon.
He said at least one injured person was taken from the scene by helicopter. He said he understood that the person was taken to the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper.
A nursing supervisor at the Wyoming Medical Center said the hospital's helicopter was out on a flight, but said that no one had been brought to the hospital for treatment yet.
Debbie Rhoades, a nursing supervisor at Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, said the hospital was expecting to receive a couple of patients from the crane collapse. She said she didn't know how serious their injuries were.
The crane was moving a 260-foot section of conveyor tube over the railroad when the accident occurred, said Gus Melonas, spokesman for the BNSF Railway in Seattle. He said a 70-foot section of the tubing was blocking the main line track. Material and debris were also blocking a connection off the main line that serves the Black Thunder and Jacob Ranch mines.
He said railroad crews were waiting for authorization from emergency responders to replace the damaged section of track.
"We expect to have the line opened up by later today, if given the go-ahead by emergency responders on site," Melonas said.
Melonas said the crane was being used to construct a loadout silo, which is used to move coal into freight cars.
The Casper Star-Tribune reported in April that construction and crane crews were moving a 2.7 million-pound crane, described as one of the largest in the world, into place for the project.
"This type of crane is capable of handling more tonage than any type of crane in the world," Melonas said.