Workers in deadly Beaver County power plant accident identified

BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. — Two workers have died and four others were injured in an accident late Tuesday night at a power plant in Shippingport, Beaver County, officials said.

The accident happened at Bruce Mansfield Power Plant on Ferry Hill Road.

PHOTOS: Deadly accident at Bruce Mansfield Power Plant in Shippingport

STORY: 5 things to know about Bruce Mansfield Power Plant

A spokesperson for FirstEnergy confirmed the workers were performing maintenance work in an underground enclosure. The two who died were contract workers from Enerfab Corporation.

Pennsylvania State Police said the workers who died were inside the pit while the four who were injured were standing above it. A pipe ruptured and sludge entered the pit, which is between 20 and 50 feet deep. The workers above were then overcome by a toxic gas, believed to be hydrogen sulfide.

An elbow joint was being replaced on the pipe, which was 25 feet underground. The pipe was supposed to be disabled.

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“Safety is always our top priority, so something like this is a very tragic accident,” FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Walton said. “We extend our condolences to the families of those killed in this tragic accident, and our thoughts and prayers are also with those who were injured.”

Channel 11 asked FirstEnergy whose responsibility it was to de-pressurize the pipe before work began.

"FirstEnergy is currently investigating and has not determined the specific details of what happened. There is no threat to public safety or other workers, and the plant continues to operate normally," Walton said.

Investigators identified the two men who died as Kevin Bachner, 34, and John Gorchock, 42, both of Pittsburgh. Both were husbands and fathers. They were also members of Boilermaker Local Lodge 154, where we've learned John Gorchock's wife worked as a secretary.

Three of the four men who were injured have been identified as 31-year-old Mark Wagner, of Pulaski, 31-year-old Thomas Cantwell, of Crafton, and 43-year-old Michael Gorchock, of Pittsburgh. He is the brother of John Gorchock.

FirstEnergy said one of their employees was injured as well.

The injured workers were flown to Pittsburgh hospitals. Two of them were last listed in critical condition.

“[The call] came in at 00:51 and we were already notified of a death by one o'clock. So that tells you how quickly they were there with first responders and ambulance personnel and were able to do determine the two were unsaveable,” state police Lt. Eric Hermick said. "Our belief at this particular juncture in this investigation is that line should not have been pressurized at least to the level it was."

"​As good as Boilermakers and workers they were, they were better people. This one hurts," friend Kevin Sherry said. "This wasn't what you would call a specialty project, this could have been any boilermaker. They just drew the straws to go to that job at that moment."

Officials said there was no threat to public safety as a result of the accident. Operations at the plant continued as normal Wednesday.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was called to the plant to investigate and information is expected to be available in a few days.

“We've had many members retire from this plant and this plant has a terrific work history. They're very safety conscious. It's surprising that something like this happened. It must have been a real unexpected mishap,” Ron Sambol, treasurer of the nearby Masonic Lodge, said.

According to FirstEnergy’s website, the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant is the company’s largest coal-fired plant. It employs about 350 people, which is more than Shippingport’s population of 214, as listed in the most recent census.

11 Investigates dug into the Bruce Mansfield Plant's safety record. According to OSHA reports, the plant has a relatively clean record, only being cited once in 2013 for safety violations, for which the company paid a $3,500 fine.