03/09/2012 05:03 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Company agrees to plead guilty, pay fine in Utah's Crandall Canyon 2007 mine collapse

SALT LAKE CITY - The operator of a Utah coal mine where a 2007 collapse led to the deaths of nine people agreed on Friday to plead guilty to two misdemeanour criminal charges and pay a $500,000 fine.

Six miners died at Crandall Canyon in central Utah in the August 2007 collapse so powerful that it initially registered as a 3.9-magnitude earthquake. Another cave-in 10 days later killed two rescuers and a federal inspector. The operation was eventually called off after drilling into the mountain found no sign of the trapped men. Their bodies remain deep in the mine's catacombs.

In documents filed in federal court in Salt Lake City Friday, attorneys for Genwal Resources Inc., noted that while it agreed to plead guilty to two counts of violating mandatory health and safety standards and pay the fine, the company can withdraw the agreement should the court not accept the plea.

The company still maintains it's mine was safe but said the plea agreement "avoids Genwal putting its former employees, their families, and members of the community at large through the ordeal of reliving the tragic events," according to a statement Friday from company lawyers.

"Significantly, the agreement reflects the lack of evidence that any conduct by the company caused the accidents," the statement said.

Genwal, based in Pepper Pike, Ohio, is an affiliate of Murray Energy Corp.

U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow said the charges support their case.

"These are the charges that we felt we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt," Barlow said.

"We recognize that nothing we can do will ever bring back the miners who perished, restore the health of those who were injured during the rescue, or erase the nightmares that still haunt those who were firsthand witnesses to these tragedies," he added. "It is this office's intent that these charges send the message to mining companies everywhere: obey the safety laws."


Associated Press writers Paul Foy and Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.