Hope All but Extinguished at Utah Mine

Officials said six trapped coal miners may never be found, outraging family members of the men who say their loved ones are being left for dead.

Hope All but Extinguished at Utah Mine
Searchers were grim Sunday after receiving air readings from a fourth hole drilled more than 1,500 feet into the mountainside. The readings detected insufficient oxygen to support life.

Repeated efforts to signal the men have been met with silence.

"It's likely these miners may not be found," said Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the Crandall Canyon Mine.

Mine officials had sustained hope for two weeks that the miners would be brought out alive, even after three rescuers were killed and six more hurt in another "bump" inside the mountain.

Family members of the six miners trapped in the initial Aug. 6 collapse accused the mine's owners and federal officials of abandoning their loved ones.

"We feel that they've given up and that they are just waiting for the six miners to expire," said Sonny Olsen, a spokesman for the families, reading from a prepared statement Sunday night as about 70 relatives of the trapped miners stood behind him.

"We are here at the mercies of the officials in charge and their so-called experts. Precious time is being squandered here, and we do not have time to spare," Olsen said.

The families demanded that rescuers immediately begin drilling a 30-inch hole into which a rescue capsule could be lowered. Olsen said the families believe it is "the safest and most effective method to rescue their loved ones."

"If rescue is not possible," he added, "the capsule is the only method to recover our loved ones so that they can have a proper burial."

Christopher Van Bever, an attorney for Murray Energy, said the company had no immediate response to the families' statement. A spokesman for the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration did not return a call seeking comment Sunday.

A rescue capsule was used in 2002 to pluck nine trapped miners from the flooded Quecreek mine in western Pennsylvania. But those miners were only about 230 feet below the surface, and the drilling took place on a gently rolling dairy farm.

Rescue workers in that case heard tapping sounds hours after the miners became trapped, indicating at least some of them were alive. The whole ordeal was over in just over three days.

At Crandall Canyon, there has been little evidence that the six miners survived the initial collapse. Four boreholes have given workers limited access to the mine, allowing them to lower video cameras and microphones, but they've found no signs of life.

Engineering experts from around the nation gathered at the mine Sunday to try to figure out a safe way of reaching the missing men. Underground tunneling has been halted since Thursday's deaths, and Moore expressed doubt that the tunneling effort would resume.

No support system can withstand the unpredictable and explosive force of a mountain bump, according to Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration. Once a coal pillar collapses, it can set off a chain reaction of collapses as the weight of the original pillar held is transferred.

Moore had been far more upbeat earlier in the weekend, but on Sunday he said oxygen readings and video images taken from the fourth hole had changed his mind about the miners' probable fate. Oxygen levels in the hole are just 11 to 12 percent, incompatible with life. Normal oxygen levels are 21 percent.

Workers started Sunday on a fifth borehole into the mountain, more than 2,000 feet down, but Moore said he expected to find insufficient air there, too.

"Our thoughts and our prayers and our deepest sympathies go out to the families -- for all those families involved in the two tragedies here," he said.

If tunneling doesn't restart, part of the mine will have been turned into a tomb. Despite that, Moore said there is recoverable coal in other parts of the 5,000-acre mine, and the company expected to resume operations at some point. He said he didn't discuss that prospect with family members.

Last Mod: 20 Ağustos 2007, 14:11
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