With the increasing adoption of the surface mining of coal, problems associated with spoil pile instability, which affects resource recovery, mining cost, and safety and presents environmental hazards, have become a matter of prime concern to mine planners and operators. The study of geotechnical aspects is thus very important in the rational planning for the disposal, reclamation, treatment and utilization of spoil material. A strip coal mine, one of the largest open pit mines in Turkey, is located in Central Anatolia and provides coal to a thermal power station. Coal production is carried out in two adjacent open pits, the Central Pit and South Pit. A large-scale spoil pile instability over an area of 0.3 km(2) occurred within the dumping area of the Central pit. In addition, small-scale movement occurred in the outside dumping area. This paper outlines the results of field and laboratory investigations to describe the mechanisms of the spoil pile instabilities and to assess deformations monitored over a long period following the failure. Shear test results indicate that the interface between the floor and spoil material dumped by dragline has a negligible cohesion and is the most critical plane of weakness for spoil pile instability. Back analyses based on the method of limit equilibrium and the numerical modelling technique, and observations in the pit revealed that failure occurred along a combined sliding surface consisting of a circular surface through the spoil material itself and a planar surface passing along the interface between the spoil piles and floor. The analyses also indicated that pore water pressure ratios of about 0.25 satisfy limiting equilibrium condition and that rainfall about one month before the failure may be a contributing factor to the instability. Movement monitoring data obtained following the failure over a 1.5-year period suggested that the ongoing deformations were mainly due to compaction of the spoil material. Based on the monitoring data and the results of the analyses, the failure mode of the local instability occurring at the outside dumping area was considerably similar to that of the large instability.