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 Post subject: Cave-In at Utah Mine Kills Three Rescuers, Injures 6 Others
PostPosted: Fri Aug 17, 2007 1:53 am 
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Friday, August 17, 2007, 1:45 AM EDT
Report combined from various sources.


Huntington, Utah — A disastrous cave-in Thursday night killed one rescue worker and injured eight others, two mortally. They were trying to tunnel through rubble to reach six trapped miners, authorities said. It was a shocking setback on the eleventh day of the effort to find the six miners who have been trapped at least 1,500 feet below ground at the Crandall Canyon Mine. It is unknown whether the six are alive or dead.

“All rescue workers have been evacuated from the mine. Nine rescue workers were injured in the accident. One of those suffered fatal injuries,” said Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, earlier this evening. Two of the seriously wounded rescuers succumbed to his injuries subsequently.

Officials said the cave-in was caused by a “mountain bump”, which commonly refers to pressure inside the mine that shoots coal from the walls with great force, an event called a “burst”. Seismologists say such an event caused the August Sixth cave-in that confined six miners inside the central Utah mine. Thursday’s “bump” occurred at 6:39 PM EDT.

Family members of miners, many in tears, gathered at the mine’s front entrance looking for news.

A mine employee, Donnie Leonard, said he was outside the mine when he heard a manager “yelling about a cave-in”. It was not immediately clear exactly where the rescuers hurt or killed were working, or what they were doing at the time. Crews have been drilling holes from the top of the mountain to try to find the miners, while others were tunneling through a debris-filled entry to the mine.

Underground, the miners had advanced to only 826 feet in nine days. Mining officials said conditions in the mine were treacherous, and they were frequently forced to halt digging because of seismic activity. A day after the initial collapse, the rescuers were pushed back 300 feet when a bump shook the mountain and filled the tunnel with rubble. Before Thursday evening’s event, rescuers still had about 1,200 feet of material to pass through in order to reach the area where they believe the trapped men had been working.

The digging was temporarily halted on Wednesday night, when a coal excavating machine was half-buried by rubble due to seismic shaking. Another “mountain bump” interrupted work briefly Thursday morning. “The seismic activity underground has just been relentless. The mountain is still alive, the mountain is still moving and we cannot endanger the rescue workers as we drive toward these trapped miners,” Bob Murray, chief of Murray Energy Corporation, the co-owner and operator of the Crandall Canyon Mine, said earlier Thursday. Murray has become more reticent to predict when the excavation would be complete. At the current rate, it is expected to take several more days.

On top the mountain, rescuers were drilling a fourth hole, aiming for a spot where they had detected mysterious vibrations in the mountain. Officials said Thursday that the latest of three holes previously drilled had penetrated an intact chamber containing potentially breathable air. Video images were obscured by water running down that borehole, but officials said they could still an undamaged chamber in the rear of the mine. The images gave no indication that the miners had been there.

Murray said it would take at least two days for the newest drilling operation to reach its target, in an area where a seismic listening device detected a “noise” or vibration in 1.5-second increments and lasting for five minutes. Officials say it's impossible to know what caused the vibrations and on Thursday clarified the limits of the technology. The device, called a “geophone”, can pinpoint the direction of the source of the disturbance, but it cannot determine whether it came from within the mine, the overburden, or from the mountain’s surface, said Richard Stickler, chief of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The “noise”, a term he used a day before, wasn’t anything officials could hear, Stickler said. “Really, it’s not sounds but vibrations.”

Officials stressed that the motion picked up by the geophones could be unrelated to the mine, even as they drilled the new hole in an effort to uncover the source of it. Together with the discovery of an intact chamber and breathable oxygen levels, the baffling vibrations offered only a glimmer of hope for rescuing the miners, but Murray seized on the developments Thursday. “The air is there, the water is there—everything is there to sustain them indefinitely until we get to them,” he said.

Officials said results of air quality samples taken from the intact chamber, accessed by the third deep borehole, showed oxygen levels of roughly 15% to 16%. Normal oxygen levels are 21%, and readings in other parts of the mine taken since the August Sixth collapse have registered levels as low as 7%. At 15% oxygen, a person would experience effects such as elevated heart and breathing rates, Stickler said.

Video images from the same borehole showed an undamaged section complete with a ventilation curtain that divides intake air from exhaust air. In theory, behind the curtain, the men might have found refuge and breathable air when the mine collapsed ten days ago. Nothing had been detected or heard since the five-minute period Wednesday, Stickler said Thursday.


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