October 31, 2014

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Rescue workers killed trying to save miners

HUNTINGTON, Utah — A disastrous cave-in Thursday night killed two rescue workers and injured seven others who were trying to tunnel through rubble to reach six trapped miners, authorities said.

It was a shocking setback on the 11th day of the effort to find miners who have been confined at least 1,500 feet below ground at the Crandall Canyon mine. It’s unknown whether the six are alive or dead.

"All rescue workers have been evacuated from the mine,” said Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

At least one rescue worker was flown from the Crandall Canyon mine to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, said Jess Gomez, a spokesman for Salt Lake City’s LDS Hospital, which dispatches medical helicopters in Utah.

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.

Seismologists say such an event caused the Aug. 6 cave-in that trapped six men inside the central Utah mine. Thursday’s bump occurred about 8:30 p.m.

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.”   

A woman who answered the phone at the mine said mine co-owner Bob Murray was not available for comment.

It was not immediately clear 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’s event, workers still had about 1,200 feet to go to reach the area where they believe the trapped men had been working.   

"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,” said Murray, chief of Murray Energy Corp., the co-owner and operator of the Crandall Canyon mine.