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Camera gives slim hope for miners

HUNTINGTON, Utah ” A video camera lowered into a shattered coal mine where six miners have been missing for more than five days has found “survivable space,” a federal official said Saturday, but attempts to signal the miners were met by silence.

The void found by a camera lowered into a new borehole showed an intact ceiling over 2 1/2 feet of rubble mixed with water on the floor, said Richard Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration

“We do have a 5 1/2-foot void. We have not lost the space where the miners could be located,” he said.



After a nearly 9-inch-wide hole was punched into the void, rescuers quickly shut down the drill rig and their compressors ” anything that could drown out signs of life from down below ” and rapped again and again on the drill steel in an attempt to contact the miners. Trapped miners, if they can hear the signal, are trained to respond in kind with tools or rocks.

These signals, however, were met with silence.



“It was heartbreaking,” said mine geologist Mike Glasson, who was on the mountain at the time. “If they’re alive and well and didn’t respond … perhaps they’re injured. I don’t know.

“We did not lose confidence in what we are doing up there,” he added, “Not one bit.”

The camera was then put down and encountered trouble because 10 gallons of groundwater a minute was flowing down the hole, Stickler said. It affected one of the camera’s lenses, compromising performance.



Nonetheless, he said, “We found survivable space.”

The camera was withdrawn so a steel casing could be inserted in the well to protect the camera from the water. Getting the casing in and the camera back down was not expected to be completed until late Saturday night, Glasson said.

A smaller 2 1/2-inch-wide hole that was drilled into the mine earlier was being used to pump oxygen into the void. Sampling of air in that hole had found oxygen levels too low for survival.

The two holes are 130 feet apart. The void is 1,868 feet below the drill rigs.

Bob Murray, head of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the mine, said the separate effort to reach the miners through a horizontal access tunnel had progressed 650 feet through rubble out of a total distance of 2,000 feet.

“The rescue effort itself, I am very disappointed at our pace,” Murray said, asserting, however, that no mistakes had been made.

The findings from the camera were announced after officials met to inform the miners’ families and show them videotape from the camera.

“It’s remarkable and wonderful how they are holding up,” said Murray.

The brother of missing miner Don Erickson, 50, expressed frustration at the news.

“We don’t know anything,” Terry Erickson said. “It’s just the same stuff that’s on TV. I’m getting tired of hearing it.”

The miner’s mother sought to remain positive.

“We’re still hopeful, as long as we keep getting these little bits that it’s possible that they have enough space and they have water, we’ll hope,” said the mother, who asked that her name be withheld because she doesn’t want to receive calls. “You’ve got to hang onto that.”

The miners’ families were briefed twice before news of the camera findings was publicly released. After the first briefing, some relatives expressed dismay.

Tomas Hernadez, uncle of miner Luis Hernandez, 23, said his family was not optimistic.

“I think with so much time passing we are losing hope,” he said, but added that his nephew’s wife was trying to keep hers.

“She’s very sad and she’s hurting about what’s happening. As wife she has to have hope,” he said.

“No good news,” said Maria Buenrostro, sister of miner Manuel Sanchez, 41, as she drove away from a school where families were briefed.

The mining crew also included Carlos Payan, in his 20s; Kerry Allred, 57; and Brandon Phillips, 24.

The six miners were more than three miles inside the remote mine when it was hit by the thunderous collapse.

Efforts to reach the miners through the horizontal main entrance have been slowed by earth movements requiring extensive installation of roof and wall supports to keep rescuers safe.

Authorities have said it could take about a week to reach the miners that way.

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Associated Press writers Alicia Caldwell and Jennifer Dobner contributed to this report.


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