HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) - Sometimes, after all other possibilities
are lost, mines become graves.
The bodies of 12 miners have been buried in the Knox Mine in
Pennsylvania for almost 50 years. Of the 78 killed in a Farmington,
W.Va., mine in 1968, 19 remain entombed. After a 1976 accident that
killed 26 men, the Scotia Mine in Kentucky was sealed.
Could that be the fate of six miners trapped since Aug. 6 in the
Crandall Canyon Mine, after three people died Thursday trying to
save them? That question was on people's minds here Friday, but
those familiar with mining said that the colleagues of the missing
men will do everything in their power to get them out, however long
"It's a brotherhood. If they were in there, they would want
somebody to come back and recover them," said Bob Ferriter, a
former MSHA engineer who teaches safety at the Colorado School of
Mines. Leaving the six men in the coal mine "would be the last
option," he said.
Underground rescue efforts were suspended indefinitely after
Thursday's fatal mine collapse, and officials were taking a close
look at whether they could resume in a mountain that appears to be
Crews on Friday were still drilling a fourth hole into the
mountain to look for any sign of the missing men.
"Is there any possible way we can continue this underground
operation and provide safety for the rescue workers? At this point
we don't have an answer," said Richard Stickler, head of the
federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Three rescue workers were killed and six injured in the latest
Rescuers working beneath 2,000 feet of sandstone had dug more
than 800 feet over 10 days, with about 1,200 feet left to go, when
they were hit with the huge blast. Rock flew from the reinforced
walls with a force Stickler said could break a 40-ton mining
machine in half.
The cave-in at 6:39 p.m. was believed to be caused by a
"mountain bump," shifting layers of earth. The force from the
bump registered a magnitude 1.6 at the University of Utah
seismograph stations in Salt Lake City.
"These events seem to be related to ongoing settling of the
rock mass following the main event," university spokesman Lee
Siegel said. "I don't think I'm going too far to say that this
mountain is collapsing in slow motion."
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman ordered flags lowered to half staff. "We
went from a tragedy to a catastrophe," he said.
Huntsman continued to call the effort a rescue operation, but he
said the digging would not resume until workers' safety could be
"Let us ensure that we have no more injuries. We have suffered
enough as a state," he said.
Mark Thompson, 52, a miner for 27 years, said the urge to keep
digging will remain strong.
"I'm sure there would be a point but who's going to make that
call?" he said of stopping an underground search. "If they need
help, they need help. Would you leave one of your co-workers?"
Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon, whose son-in-law is a miner,
said she wouldn't know when to scratch a rescue.
"I thank God I don't have to make that call. As a miner's wife,
I would want to keep going," she said. "But if I was the wife of
a rescue worker, I would say that's really dangerous."
Two of those killed Thursday were identified as MSHA inspector
Gary Jensen, 53, of Redmond, and miner Dale Black, 48, of
Jensen had worked at MSHA since 2001 and was recently assigned
to special investigations, agency spokeswoman Amy Louviere said.
Black grew up two doors from Gordon, who visited his mother
Friday and recalled that he was "just full of life."
MSHA is summoning experts to the mine to see if they can develop
a safer way of tunneling toward the trapped miners, Stickler said.
But he said any further rescue efforts would have to involve
drilling a bore hole large enough to fit a rescue capsule - which
would take more than two weeks, according to Kevin Stricklin,
MSHA's administrator for coal mine safety.
Officials have drilled three holes into the mountain in the
search for the missing men, but still don't know where they are or
whether they are alive. With the fourth hole being drilled Friday,
officials were aiming for the spot where mysterious vibrations were
detected for a few minutes Wednesday.
"Without question, we have suffered a setback, and we have
incurred an incredible loss. But this team remains focused on the
task at hand" - the rescue of the miners, said Rob Moore, vice
president of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the mine.
The president of the United Mine Workers of America, Cecil E.
Roberts, blamed the mine's owners and federal officials for the
latest tragedy. Owners of the nonunion mine had rejected UMW offers
to help in the rescue effort, saying they had all the help they
"This disaster has only compounded what was already an immense
tragedy. Making the situation much worse is the fact that all of
these deaths were needless and preventable," Roberts said in a
statement from union headquarters in Fairfax, Va.
But Stickler said outside experts had signed off on MSHA's plan
to ensure the rescuers' safety underground.
"There was consensus that the plan that we had developed and
implemented provided the maximum safety of workers that we knew to
be available," he said. "Obviously, it was not adequate."
Three of the trapped miners are from Mexico, and Mexico's consul
in Salt Lake City, Salvador Jimenez, said he urged the governor to
continue the rescue effort. While experts need to study the best
way to do it safely, "this effort should not be interrupted,"
In Mexico, Susana Salcido sobbed when told that the search for
her cousin Manuel Sanchez and the other miners had been suspended.
"Yesterday we were hopeful after learning that they had heard
noises (inside the rubble)," said Salcido, who lives in Sanchez's
home town of Nuevo Casas Grande.
"We never imagined that instead of good news we would hear
about another tragedy," she added, referring to the killed
Even so, she said she is not ready to lose hope. "All we can do
now is pray for a miracle," Salcido said.
In Utah, a neighbor to one of the trapped miners, Sue Ann
Martell, said she cried for the first time Friday.
"It's just mounting up and mounting up," she said. "It's
But Martell, director of a mining history museum in nearby
Helper, Utah, also said rescue workers won't give up easily.
"Because if they were in there and they were the original six,
they'd want to know somebody was coming after them, and they
wouldn't want them to give up," Martell said. "Yeah, three more
have died, you've got six more injured. OK, fine, let's stabilize
the mine, but we're going back. They won't give up."
"Think about the code that's among firemen - you don't leave a
man behind," she said.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Dobner, Ed White, Paul Foy,
Alicia Caldwell, Jessica Gresko in Salt Lake City; Vicki Smith in
Morgantown, W.Va.,; and Olga Rodriquez in Mexico City contributed
to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)