Advertisement
  1. Archive

Miners alive

Nine coal miners were found alive Saturday night 240 feet underground, and rescuers prepared to spend the night working to pull them from the flooded shaft where they were trapped for more than three days.

After more than 74 frustrating hours, Gov. Mark Schweiker appeared before reporters and raised his fists over his head.

"All nine are alive," he said. "And we believe that all nine are in pretty good shape." Schweiker said one of the miners reported feeling "some heart stress" and that the man would be evaluated.

He said rescuers hoped to begin lowering a capsule that would ferry the miners one or two at at time from the shaft around 1:30 a.m.

First, workers would have to remove the giant drill bit that pierced the ceiling of 4-foot high chamber at 10:16 p.m., allowing them to drop a telephone line to the miners through a small air pipe.

"We have an awful lot of work ahead of us," said David Hess, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection. "And it's going to take some time."

The Sipesville Fire Hall, where the families had been gathering, erupted in celebration. Families cried and hugged and many were in the street with hands in the air.

"Wow. Wow. Wow. It's just unbelievable," said mine worker Lou Lepley, who has been staffing the mine entrance for three days. "I have no words."

Rescuers were seen hugging and giving the thumbs-up sign soon after dropping a telephone line into the shaft.

The word came from an unidentified, mud-caked rescue worker who shouted up from the pit near where they dropped the communication device: "They're all down there. They're waiting to come up. There's nine of them. We talked to them on the telephone."

The miners became trapped in the flooded Quecreek Mine at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, when they inadvertently broke into an abandoned, water-filled mine that maps showed to be 300 feet away.

Rescue workers had remained optimistic the miners were alive, even though there had been no contact with them since midday Thursday, when tapping was heard on an air hole.

"If there's any slogan (among the rescue workers) it's "nine-for-nine,' " Schweiker said before the drill broke through. "We're bringing up nine of our guys."

Reaching the men was sometimes painfully slow. Drilling a rescue shaft to the men, age 30 to 55, didn't begin until more than 20 hours after the accident, because workers had to wait for a drill rig to arrive from West Virginia. And drilling was halted early Friday morning because a 1,500-pound drill bit broke after hitting hard rock about 100 feet down.

A second rescue shaft was started and it wasn't until Saturday that measurable progress was being made on both shafts.

Rescue workers suffered several gut-wrenching setbacks, including a broken drill bit Friday that delayed the effort by 18 hours. The rescuers worked cautiously toward the miners because they feared compromising a hollowed-out section of coal seam believed to be about 4 feet high, which may have been partially flooded.

Helicopters were standing by to whisk miners from the scene 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh to hospitals, and medical personnel were set to immediately treat injuries or hypothermia.

Nine decompression chambers also were at the scene. Medical personnel said the air pressure on the miners could be as much as is experienced at 40 feet underwater, and the men could suffer the bends _ bubbles in the bloodstream caused by rapid changes in pressure _ once they were rescued.

Air had been pumped into the chamber at more than 100 degrees in the hope that it would warm the men.

Before the drill broke through, 30 feet of water had been drained from the mine, the amount needed to give the trapped men more room and ensure the pressure wouldn't cause water to rise when the ceiling was pierced.

A cap was placed over the rescue shaft at the surface to ensure the chamber remained pressurized.

The miners were trapped when they broke the wall of an abandoned mine that maps showed to be some 300 feet farther away. As much as 60-million gallons of water rushed into the shaft where they were working, and they were able to warn a second crew, which escaped.

The rescue attempt has transfixed the region, which suffered tragedy during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93 died when it was taken over by hijackers and crashed near Shanksville, about 10 miles from the mine. Schweiker said family members of Flight 93 victims sent an e-mail message to the families of the miners.

Long wait, good news

Exhaustion, frustration and unflappable hope filled the southwestern Pennsylvania countryside for the three agonizing days that ended with the triumphant news Saturday that nine miners trapped in a flooded shaft were still alive.

The Sipesville Fire Hall erupted with joy when news broke that the men had survived. Families cried and hugged.

The first word came from an unidentified, mud-caked rescue worker who shouted up from the pit near where they dropped the communication device: "They're all down there. They're waiting to come up. There's nine of them. We talked to them on the telephone."

74{ hours

A chronology of events in the mining accident near Somerset, Pa.:

Wednesday

9 p.m. _ Nine miners become trapped 240 feet below ground inside the Quecreek mine after breaking into an adjacent, abandoned mine. The Quecreek mine is flooded with 50- to 60-million gallons of water.

Thursday

3:30 a.m. _ Rescue workers hear tapping from the area where miners are trapped.

11:30 a.m. _ Tapping heard again.2:30 p.m. _ A drill rig large enough to bore a rescue shaft arrives from a West Virginia mine.

6 p.m. _ Crews begin drilling tunnel to reach miners.

Friday

2 a.m. _ Drill bit gets stuck in rock about 100 feet down and breaks.

11:10 a.m. _ Digging with new equipment begins on another shaft about 75 feet from the first.

4:45 p.m. _ Broken bit is removed from the first rescue tunnel.

8 p.m. _ Drilling resumes on first rescue shaft.

Saturday

3 p.m. _ Tunnel reaches depth of 224 feet, less than 20 feet from chamber where miners are trapped.

7:30 p.m. _ Gov. Mark Schweiker announces "We're on the verge."

8 p.m. _ Drilling in first rescue shaft stopped briefly at 227 feet to fix problem with compressed air drill.

10:20 p.m. _ Drill in first rescue shaft breaks through into mine chamber 240 feet underground; workers remove equipment used to pump compressed air into the chamber and begin to tap on pipes, listening for response.

10:50 p.m. _ A line of rescue workers lowers a telephone and green light into smaller shaft adjacent to drilling site.

11 p.m. _ Smiling rescue workers begin to hug and give thumbs-up signs.

11:35 p.m. _ Gov. Schweiker confirms all nine miners are alive.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement