Howard "Boone" Payne was a "gentle giant" in his early 50s with flaming red hair and broad shoulders.
"He would go out of his way to help someone," said his brother-in-law, Terry Wright of Roanoke, Va. "He loved to have fun. He was quiet and loved his family."
Payne began working as a coal miner shortly after graduating high school in 1977. He had worked for Massey Energy for eight to 10 years. Massey told Payne's wife, Debra, about his death at 2 a.m. Tuesday, Wright said.
Wright said Payne never expressed any fears about his profession. As a former coal miner, himself, Wright understands why.
"You know any mistake may be the last day of your life. You know any day you work may be your last. But you just can't think about that. You can't stay in mining and think about that."
Howard Payne was one of 29 miners killed April 5, 2010 by a huge explosion in an underground coal mine owned by Massey Energy Co. in West Virginia - the worst U.S. mining disaster since 1970.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press