Collapse at Patriot Coal Corp mine in West Virginia kills two workers

By Annie Moore

BECKLEY, West Virginia (Reuters) - Rescue workers on Tuesday clawed through the wreckage of a collapsed Patriot Coal Corp mine in Wharton, West Virginia, where two miners were killed, officials said.

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

It identified the workers as Eric Legg of Twilight, West Virginia, and Gary Hensley of Chapmanville, West Virginia. The men's bodies have been recovered.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant called for an investigation into the collapse in central West Virginia's Boone County.

"As we learn more details, our first priority is ensuring the safe rescue and recovery of everyone involved and comforting the families in Boone County," Tennant said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for St. Louis-based Patriot was not immediately available to comment.

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. The deaths 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 shows.

In a statement, Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin expressed "heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the two miners - Eric and Gary - who lost their lives in this tragic mining accident."

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 and Meredith Mazzilli)

[Portrait of tired coal miner wiping forehead via Shutterstock]