Rescuers May Reach Miners in Two Days
Crews hoping to get food and air to six trapped miners drilled to within about 1,000 feet of the men Wednesday, raising hopes that rescuers could reach the victims in about two days, one of the mine's owners said.
It is not known whether the miners are still alive more than two days after the initial cave-in, said Bob Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp., owner of the Crandall Canyon mine.
The news was substantially better than the night before, when crews had to halt drilling because of unstable ground.
Efforts to clear tunnels leading to the chamber where the men were believed trapped were to resume in the afternoon, Murray said.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. said he was "confident that all that can be done is being done (and) ... the rescue efforts are in the hands of professionals."
Murray said the "good news" was that his company is drilling two holes - the biggest is less than 9 inches. The holes are small, but he said they should bring information about the status of the miners in the next few days. If the miners are alive, he said, they could survive on available air "for perhaps weeks."
But it was the bad news that cast a shadow over a Catholic mass held Tuesday evening for the families of three of the miners, three of whom are Mexican citizens.
The mass was held in Spanish and English. Father Omar Ontiveros encouraged the 60 or so people inside the small church to talk about their feelings and remain strong.
Retired coal miner Victor Pacheco, Sr. attended the service. Like others in this community, he was trying to think of ways the six miners might still be alive.
"If they're behind the cave-in and they have plenty of air ... I pray that they're OK," he said. "A lot of times coal miners save a sandwich or an apple for their children when they come home, so they might have had a sandwich left over in their bucket."
The Mine Safety and Health Administration, known as MSHA, is investigating what happened at the mine.
For now, what prompted the collapse remains a point of bitter controversy between some seismologists and mine CEO Murray.
Seismologists, however, said it appears the mine collapse itself is what registered on their instruments - not an earthquake.
Murray lashed out at the media for suggesting his men were conducting "retreat mining," in which miners pull down the last standing pillars of coal and let the roof fall in.
"This was caused by an earthquake, not something that Murray Energy ... did or our employees did or our management did," he said. "It was a natural disaster. An earthquake. And I'm going to prove it to you."
Richard Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for the MSHA, declined to argue with Murray.
"I'm not here to get into the political debate. I'm here to focus on doing everything we can to try to rescue these miners as soon as possible," Stickler said.
After the rescue effort is finished, MSHA said it will conduct an investigation to figure out what the miners were doing early Monday morning when the collapse occurred and whether their actions contributed to the tragedy.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
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