August 11, 2007 in Nation/World

Miners’ odds are ‘50/50’

Ashley Powers and Lynn Marshall Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photos photo

Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration Richard Strickler speaks to reporters Friday at the command post for the Crandall Canyon Mine rescue effort in Utah. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)

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» PRINCETON, Ind. – Three men being carried in a construction bucket fell out and plunged 500 feet down an air shaft at a coal mine Friday, killing them, authorities said.

» No one else was injured, said George Zugel, director of safety and health for Frontier-Kemper Constructors Inc., which is building the 550-foot vertical ventilation shaft at the Gibson County Coal mine in southern Indiana.

» The open-top bucket was somehow upset as it was descending in the shaft, and the three men fell to the bottom, Zugel said.

HUNTINGTON, Utah – After another day without any communication from six men trapped under 1,800 feet of rock and coal, mining experts Friday said the chance they are still alive had dropped to “50/50.”

“We are not to the point yet where there is no hope,” said Robert Ferriter, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines. But as times goes by, “it gets more complicated. … The temperature down there is about 55 degrees, and hypothermia could set in.”

The frantic rescue effort launched after the cave-in early Monday suffered a setback when officials discovered that a 2 1/2-inch drill had missed the mine cavity where the men are thought to be trapped. Instead, the drill had entered an area near where the miners had been working. Readings showed there was not enough oxygen there to support life. A microphone lowered down the hole picked up no sounds.

Bleary-eyed rescuers late Friday were attempting to drill a nearly 9-inch hole into Crandall Canyon Mine in order to slide down a small video camera with a 100-foot range, as well as to supply the miners with food, water and oxygen.

“If they get in the cavity and are able to hear something – a miner beating on a pipe, something like that – that would be definitive,” Ferrier said.

Rescuers tunneling horizontally toward the miners still may be a week from reaching them.

Family members have identified the trapped men as Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Carlos Payan, Luis Hernandez and Arturo “Manuel” Sanchez. Local media identified the sixth man as Brandon Phillips.

“During this moment, we feel the loving presence of God in the midst of our pain,” the Payan, Hernandez and Sanchez families said in a statement Friday.

“It is not so much a matter of having a good day or a bad day,” said Father Don Hope, a priest who has counseled the families. “It gets to the point of having a good hour or a bad hour as they continue to await the latest news from the mine.”

So far, the news has not been good.

On Monday, rescuers failed in their attempt to break through old seals in parallel passageways to reach the men. Then early Tuesday, coal and debris rained down onto the rescuers, damaging ventilation ducts. Since tunneling resumed Wednesday, rescuers have been able to clear through about 400 feet.

In previous accidents, miners have been able to last several days.

In 1968, six men survived underground for 10 days in a West Virginia mine. Four years later, two Idaho miners walked out after eight days.

“Right now, I’d say their odds are 50/50,” Bruce Dial of Dial Mine Safety said of the Huntington miners. “If they get the camera down there and don’t see anything, I’d cut those in half.”


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