Two employees of a company that manages coal-handling operations for Xcel Energy’s Comanche Generating Station in Colorado were killed June 2 when they were trapped in a coal pile that collapsed at the power plant.
The collapse happened Thursday morning about 8:30 a.m. Mountain time, according to officials. Rescue crews located the victims Thursday afternoon. Officials said the victims were working on the 80-foot-high pile of coal.
The Pueblo County coroner on June 4 identified the two men who died as Kyle Bussey, 28, of Pueblo, and Phillip Roberts, 36, of Canon City. Both men were pronounced dead at the scene. Officials said it is not known what the workers, sub-contractors from Savage Services, were doing at the time of the incident, which a caller to 9-1-1 described as a landslide.
Comanche is a three-unit coal-fired plant. Comanche’s 857-MW Unit 3 is the largest coal-burning unit in Colorado.
Officials: Incline of Coal Pile Gave Way
Pueblo Fire Inspector and Public Information Officer Erik Duran told media, “EMS emergency services responders on site determined that [the victims] were dead on scene.” Duran said responders recovered the bodies of “two men, one in his 20s and one in his 30s. We reached the first victim at around 3 p.m. [Mountain] and found the second victim shortly thereafter.”
Savage Services in a statement said, “We are devastated that the deaths of two of our Team Members have been confirmed, resulting from an incident that occurred Thursday morning at the coal yard Savage operates and maintains for Xcel Energy at its Comanche power plant. This is tragic for the families, our team, our Customer, and the Pueblo community. We are working with local and federal officials and Xcel Energy to investigate the cause of the accident. We appreciate the emergency responders who aided in rescue and recovery efforts, as well as Xcel Energy for their support. Out [sic] hearts and prayers go out to the families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones, and we are working to provide support for the families and our Team Members at the site.”
The Pueblo Fire Department said the two workers were 25 feet up when the incline of the pile gave way underneath them. “There was an eyewitness who saw them there and then saw them disappear,” Duran said. “We don’t know why they were there or what their jobs were.”
Xcel Energy in a statement said, “Our thoughts are with the employees of Savage who were involved in an incident at the coal facilities at the Comanche plant today and their families. We are working with Savage and Pueblo County Sheriff’s Department to understand what happened. Savage has served as a long-term contractor partner that operates and maintains the coal yard at Comanche and our other coal plants. Savage manages all of the onsite operations; hiring, training and maintaining staff and equipment and coal operations at the Comanche plant coal yard.” Xcel said further information about the incident, and the workers killed, would come from Savage.
Duran said rescue crews arrived at the power plant about 10 minutes after receiving the initial call. He said workers onsite at first used shovels to try to reach the victims until excavation equipment arrived on the scene. Duran said Xcel Energy workers at the plant assisted with the rescue effort, along with emergency medical workers.
Pueblo County Commissioners in April unanimously approved an agreement to close Comanche Unit 3 by year-end 2031. The closure would mark the end of coal-fired power generation in Colorado.
Along with Comanche Units 1 and 2, Colorado’s five other remaining coal plants—Pawnee Generating Station, Craig Generating Station, Hayden Generating Station, Rawhide Energy Station, and the Ray D. Nixon Power Plant—are all scheduled to close no later than 2030.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).