HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) — Hundreds of rescuers struggled with falling rock and debris Monday in a desperate race to reach six coal miners trapped 1,500 feet below ground by a cave-in so powerful authorities questioned whether it was caused by an earthquake.
As the rescue stretched into the night, workers were unable to make significant progress and the initial effort was declared a failure.
“I’m very disappointed. That’s one step backward,” Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp. of Cleveland, a part owner of the
More than 16 hours after the collapse, searchers had been unable to contact the miners and could not say whether they were dead or alive. If they survived,
“They could have been struck by material and injured or killed, but we don’t know that yet,” he said.
Rescuers planned to spend the night bulldozing a road outside the mine to make way for a drilling rig that can punch holes large enough to improve ventilation and determine whether the men were alive,
They also planned to continue drilling from inside and outside the mine, he said.
The mining crew was believed to be about four miles from the mine entrance. Rescuers were drilling into the mine vertically from the mountaintop and horizontally from the side,
If they are able to open an old mine shaft,
“The idea is to get a hole into where they are,”
About a mile from the mine’s entrance, there was an all-day procession of trucks hauling heavy machinery headed toward the site to claw at rock and raw earth.
Relatives of the miners waited for news at a nearby senior center. Many of the family members don’t speak English, so Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon hugged them, put her hands over her heart and then clasped them together to let them know she was praying for them, she said.
“Past experience tells us these things don’t go very well,” said Gordon, whose husband is a former miner.
Outside the senior center, Ariana Sanchez, 16, said her father Manuel Sanchez, 42, was among the trapped miners. She said she cried when her mother told her the news, and declined further comment. No details were immediately available about the other miners.
The mine uses a method called “retreat mining,” in which pillars of coal are used to hold up an area of the mine’s roof. When that area is completely mined, the company pulls the pillar and grabs the useful coal, causing an intentional collapse. Experts say it is one of the most dangerous mining methods.
Federal mine-safety inspectors, who have issued more than 300 citations against the mine since January 2004, were also on hand to help oversee the search.
The mine is built into a mountain in the rugged
By mid-afternoon, rescuers were within 1,700 feet of the miners’ presumed location,
The collapse did not appear related to an explosion.
“The whole problem has been caused by an earthquake,”
Since the mid-1990s, at least a half-dozen other mine collapses have caused similar seismic waves, including a 1995 cave-in in southwestern
“I’m so hopeful for those guys. They should have lots of oxygen to breathe,” said Mary Ann Wright, associate director for mining in the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.
“From not having heard that there’s any type of fire, that’s always good news. If they’re trapped in a cavern area, there should be oxygen to breathe,” Wright said.
Government mine inspectors have issued 325 citations against the mine since January 2004, according to a quick analysis of federal Mine Safety and Health Administration online records. Of those, 116 were what the government considered “significant and substantial,” meaning they are likely to cause injury.
The 325 safety violations is not unusual, said J. Davitt McAteer, former head of the MHSA and now vice president of
“It’s not perfect but it’s certainly not bad,” McAteer said. “It would be in the medium range.”
In 2007, inspectors have issued 32 citations against the mine, 14 of them considered significant.
Last month, inspectors cited the mine for violating a rule requiring that at least two separate passageways be designated for escape in an emergency.
It was the third time in less than two years that the mine had been cited for the same problem, according to MSHA records. In 2005, MSHA ordered the mine owners to pay $963 for not having escapeways and the 2006 fine for the same problem was just $60.
Overall, the federal government has ordered the mine owner to pay nearly $152,000 in penalties for its 325 violations with many citations having no fines calculated yet. Since January, the mine owner has paid $130,678 in fines, according to MSHA records.
Asked about safety,
Gov. Jon Huntsman broke away from a wildfire forum in
“We’re going to expend every resource we have and make every effort to make sure lives are put first and foremost,” he said as he departed
The head of MSHA, Richard Stickler, said he would be at the site Tuesday.