Hopes fading at Utah mine

MONDAY, AUG. 13, 2007

LOS ANGELES – Rescue workers trying to reach six coal miners trapped under a Utah mountain plan to drill a third hole more than 1,400 feet down into the mine, authorities said Sunday. Efforts to contact the miners through two previous holes have yielded no sign that the men are still alive.

Hundreds of miners and engineers have tried to reach the men since the Crandall Canyon mine, near Huntington, Utah, collapsed nearly a week ago. Logistical problems and constantly shifting earth underground have slowed the rescue attempts.

Mine officials are visibly exhausted and have become less upbeat at daily news conferences as the week has worn on.

For the first time, one official described the mission as a “recovery” effort, implying that rescuers are losing faith the miners have survived.

“This recovery effort and rescue effort is very challenging,” said Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., which owns part of Crandall Canyon mine.

A camera lowered into the mine Saturday showed the ceiling and some mining tools, including a bag, a chain and reflectors, said Richard Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. None of the items could be linked to a specific miner, he said.

A light attached to the camera illuminated 15 feet around it, though rescuers had hoped to see 100 feet in all directions. Rescuers will develop a plan to throw more light from the camera.

They are also preparing to drill a 1,414-foot diagonal hole to reach a place where the rescue team thinks the men might have gone to get better air. A reading taken from the first drill hole found there was not enough oxygen in the men’s work area to survive.

A team of miners burrowing to reach the men through tunnels filled with debris was forced to stop work briefly because of underground shaking. It could be four or five days until they reach the area where the missing men were working, officials said.

“They’re the most difficult conditions I’ve ever seen in my 50 years of mining,” said Robert Murray, president of Murray Energy.

Rescuers are developing more efficient ways of digging through the tunnels, which are blocked by debris, Stickler said.

Although Murray asserted Saturday, as he had many times before, that “there have been no mistakes” in the rescue effort, logistical problems abound.

Yet the rescue plan workers are following is “still a good plan, and it is virtually the only plan,” Murray said.


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