Efforts to recover the body of 62-year-old mine worker have ended in Muhlenberg County.

Richard L. Knapp, of West Frankfort, Illinois, and an employee of Illinois-based Fricke Management & Contracting, is presumed dead after an explosion that occurred Wednesday at the KenAmerican Resources, Inc., Paradise Mine near Bremen.

Knapp was constructing a form that would be used to fill a shaft with concrete as part of the effort to seal it. The second of two methane gas explosions resulted in Knapp falling into the shaft.

Now that the search has been suspended, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC) will begin their investigation into the incident and what deficiencies, if any, led to Knapp's death, said John Mura, EEC office of communication executive director, said.

"Now that this phase is over," he said. "We will concentrate on doing an investigation about how this accident happened. Whenever there is an accident, certainly a fatality, we do an investigation. Usually, it will take about a month before a report is generated. Traditionally, if there are deficiencies we will ask the company to sign an agreed order that rectifies them. If there are serious deficiencies, we can issue a violation and fine them. If there are deficiencies, timelines will be worked out in each order depending on the case."

Recovery efforts were called-off on Monday and the EEC began conducting interviews with mine-personnel. The mine will remain closed until interviews are complete and nothing new has been revealed, he said.

"If there are issues, we will want to see immediate action," he said. "However, that is premature, we have just begun doing the investigation. We are going into this investigation with an open mind. Our inspectors are very experienced and they know what to look for."

Since Wednesday, KenAmerican employees and mine safety officials from the ECC's Department for Natural Resources and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration worked to clear the 380-foot mine shaft of explosive methane gases in an effort to access the shaft in the hopes of recovering Knapp's body.

Those gasses were at controllable levels on Saturday and members of the recovery team were able to lower a camera into the opening, but they saw no sign of Knapp in the water at the bottom of the shaft. As a result, the mine's owners decided to halt further efforts to avoid putting anyone else in harm's way, especially those recovery members that would be lowered into the shaft to locate Knapp's body.

Phone calls to Fricke Management & Contracting were not returned.

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com.

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