HUNTINGTON, Utah – Six coal miners caught in a cave-in may never be found in the still-quivering mountain, officials conceded Sunday, abandoning the optimism they’ve maintained publicly for nearly two weeks.
Relatives responded by accusing federal officials and the mine’s owners of quitting on the rescue effort and leaving the men for dead.
“We feel that they’ve given up and that they are just waiting for the six miners to expire,” said Sonny Olsen, a spokesman for the families, reading from a prepared statement as about 70 relatives of the trapped miners stood behind him.
Air readings from a fourth hole drilled more than 1,500 feet into the mountainside found insufficient oxygen to support life, and the latest efforts to signal the men were again met by silence.
“It’s likely these miners may not be found,” said Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the Crandall Canyon Mine.
The news marked a shift in tone in mine officials’ assessments of the chances the men would be rescued, hopes they had maintained even after three rescuers were killed and six more hurt Thursday in another “bump” inside the mountain.
The families of the missing miners demanded that rescuers immediately begin drilling a 30-inch hole into which a rescue capsule could be lowered.
Moore expressed doubt that the tunneling effort would resume. “We just simply cannot take the unacceptable risk and put additional lives in harm’s way.”
If tunneling doesn’t restart, part of the mine will have been turned into a tomb. Despite that, Moore said there is recoverable coal in the mine, and the company expected to resume operations at some point.
He said he didn’t discuss that prospect with family members.