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WVU wins eighth consecutive SME mine rescue competition

2023 Mine Rescue Team

WVU Gold team placed first and WVU Blue earned second place at this year's Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration – Eastern Collegiate Mine Rescue Organization (ECMRO) Coal National Competition.

Two West Virginia University teams earned top honors at the 2023 Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration – Eastern Collegiate Mine Rescue Organization (ECMRO) Coal National Competition on November 4 at the West Virginia Office of Miners Health Safety and Training center in Julian. This is WVU’s eighth consecutive win in the last four years.  

Story by Kaley LaQuea, Communications Specialist
Photos by J. Brady


The competition tested teams’ ability to locate and rescue missing miners through obstacles such as mine fires, injured miners, irrespirable atmospheres, bad ground control conditions and mine flooding. The students must correct those conditions systematically before removing any survivors. 

The WVU Gold team, comprised of mining engineering students Ashton Crawford, Odin Smith, geology major Matt Ellis, biology major Troy Whiton, dual mining and civil engineering student Cole Delisle, electrical engineering student Ian Stengel and led by junior mining engineering student Justin Waybright, clenched first place. This was Waybright’s first year serving as captain.

“I learned what it really takes for a team to run efficiently and to be a leader,” Waybright said. “As a captain, you’re making the decisions on where to go, when to go and how to keep your team safe while trying to help others. I will use this competition as a building block to further educate myself in mine rescue and to educate others.”  

In addition to a timed written exam, students participate in a simulated team rescue exercise where teams must locate and mark on their maps various hazards like fires or items like ventilation structures.

WVU teams have won 10 out of the last 15 competitions since 2016, but this year was the first time participating in mine rescue for many students. First-time competitor junior Ian Stengel served as WVU Gold team’s command center attendant.

“The experience was incredibly exciting and exhilarating,” Stengel said. “Engaging in deep problem-solving under pressure taught me the importance of quick decision-making and innovative thinking. Competitions like this offer the stage to bridge the gap between our classroom education and practical application. It also instills a strong sense of competitiveness amongst teams, encouraging us to excel and push our limits.” 

Captain and dual mining and civil engineering student Josh Riffle led WVU Blue team to second place, alongside mining engineering students Trent Cavanaugh, Braden Kiesel, Dylan Shilling, mechanical engineering students Evan Rice and Grace Hansen, and dual mining and civil engineering student Ricky Ferenchak.

Riffle earned first place in the 240 R Bench, and Grace Hansen secured first for the BG-4 Bench — skills competitions where teams have 30 minutes to find a solution for a broken breathing apparatus. This was Hansen’s first time competing to bench the Drager BG-4.

“It was very exciting but also nerve-racking,” Hansen said. “I knew I had to stay focused and be efficient with my time, so I worked as quickly as I could. The benching competitions are very important for students because it gives us a chance to apply hands-on skills outside the classroom. For an engineer, the ability to quickly problem solve under pressure is a skill that is practiced during exams, but nothing compares to diagnosing and fixing a machine in person.”

WVU competed against two other teams from the University of Kentucky and Virginia Tech. Teams from Penn State attended to train and observe the competition.

“Competitions like this not only build friendships that last a lifetime, but we’re putting our skills that we have practiced as a team into scenarios that make us think on our feet,” Waybright said. “All the 6 a.m. practices boil down to this one competition, and we cannot wait for that one weekend to compete to keep the streak alive and bring the traveling trophy back home to Morgantown.”  



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, contact our Marketing and Communications office:

Phone: 304-293-4135