The bodies of all 29 West Virginia coal miners killed in an explosion last week have been recovered from the mine, a spokeswoman for the state mine office said Tuesday.
Jama Jarrett said the last bodies were taken out around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Tuesday and the bodies were being sent to the state medical examiner for autopsies.
Recovery efforts had been stalled in previous days by volatile gases, but teams entered Monday after the tunnels were ventilated.
The recovery of the remaining bodies, paves the way for federal investigators to enter the mine as they try to determine what caused the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970. Investigators had not yet entered the mine early Tuesday, Jarrett said.
The team of inspectors from the Mine Safety and Health Administration briefed Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and MSHA director Joe Main at the Upper Big Branch mine Monday.
The mine's owner, Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy Co., has been under scrutiny for a string of safety violations at the mine, though CEO Don Blankenship has defended the company's record and disputed accusations that he puts profits ahead of safety.
Authorities have said high methane levels may have played a role in the disaster. Massey has been repeatedly cited and fined for problems with the system that vents methane and for allowing combustible dust to build up.
New York state's comptroller and a pension fund adviser called for Blankenship's resignation immediately as chairman of Massey's board.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, trustee of a retirement fund holding more than 300,000 shares of Massey stock worth $14 million, said the company failed to adequately manage risks at the mine.
A similar challenge came in a letter to Massey from William Patterson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based CtW Investment Group, which works with union pension funds.
Mourning continued Monday exactly a week after the explosion, with the ceremony at the state Capitol and a moment of silence at 3:30 p.m. President Barack Obama ordered all U.S. flags in the state flown at half-staff until sunset Sunday.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell also asked people in his state to observe the moment of silence. He restored $750,000 in funding for mine safety inspections in Virginia to the state's strained budget, saying the tragedy in West Virginia was a wakeup call.
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