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‘Survivable space’ seen in Utah mine

HUNTINGTON, Utah – A video camera lowered into a mine where six workers have been missing for more than five days shows “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 hole showed an intact ceiling over 2 feet of rubble mixed with water, 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.

The nearly 9-inch-wide hole reached the void in the early morning darkness. 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.”

The news further disheartened the miners’ relatives, who have eagerly awaited each new development only to have their faith dashed when no word comes of the fate of their loved ones.

“I think with so much time passing we are losing hope,” said Tomas Hernandez, uncle of miner Luis Hernandez, 23.

The camera encountered trouble because 10 gallons of groundwater a minute were flowing down the hole into the vast space below, Stickler said. The water, not enough to affect any survivors below, blurred one of the camera’s lenses.

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The camera was withdrawn so a steel casing could be inserted in the well to protect the camera from the water.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 hole 2 1/2 inches wide 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.

The men were more than three miles inside the remote mine at the time of the thunderous collapse Monday. Efforts to reach them through the horizontal main tunnels have been slowed by fallen rock and by ground movements that require extensive installation of roof and wall supports to keep rescuers safe.

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

The brother of missing miner Don Erickson 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.”

Authorities have said it could take about a week to reach the miners through the tunnels.

“No good news,” Maria Buenrostro, sister of miner Manuel Sanchez, 41, said 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.

At an evening prayer service in Huntington, local Mormon leader Lavar Jensen asked about 400 people to fast for the next 24 hours to add power to the prayers for the men and their families.

“We want their souls to be satisfied,” Jensen said. “We want them to know the Lord is in charge. This is his plan. The Lord knows the fate of these six men.”


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