August, 2007





Seismic activity suspends miner rescue effort

'We are back to square one,' official says, insisting quake caused cave-in

HUNTINGTON, Utah - Seismic activity has “totally shut down” efforts to reach six miners trapped below ground and has wiped out all the work done in the past day, a mine executive said Tuesday.

“We are back to square one underground,” said Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp., owner of the Crandall Canyon mine.

Still, “we should know within 48 to 72 hours the status of those trapped miners,” Murray said. Rescue crews are drilling two holes into the mountain in an effort to communicate with the miners — provided they are still alive.

Meanwhile, unstable conditions below ground have thwarted rescuers’ efforts to break through to the miners, who have been trapped 1,500 feet below the surface for nearly two days, Murray said.

The seismic activity and other factors “have totally shut down our rescue efforts underground,” he said.

“There is absolutely no way that through our underground rescue effort we can reach the vicinity of the trapped miners for at least one week,” Murray said.

The National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado said 10 seismic shocks have been recorded since the collapse, but only one since 3 a.m. Tuesday. That one struck at 3:42 p.m. with a magnitude of 1.7.

Geologist: Not a natural event
Murray has insisted the cave-in was caused by an earthquake. But government seismologists have said the pattern of ground-shaking picked up by their instruments around the time of the accident Monday appeared to have been caused not by an earthquake, but by the cave-in itself.

“Based on the information and preliminary analysis we’ve done so far, this event doesn’t look like a natural event. It doesn’t have the proper characteristics of a natural earthquake,” said Rafael Abreu, a geologist for the earthquake information center. “Even though it’s not a natural earthquake, it could still generate aftershocks, which is exactly what we’re seeing in this particular situation.”

Murray lashed out at the news media for suggesting his men were conducting “retreat mining,” a method 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, his voice often rising in anger. “It was a natural disaster. An earthquake. And I’m going to prove it to you.”


Mine collapses that produced quake-like activity
Seismic  waves  of  3.9 magnitude  were  recorded

 in  the  area  of  a  mine  in  Utah  after  it

 collapsed. Scientists  believe  the  collapse  caused

the disturbance.  Below  are  some  previous  mine

 collapses  in  the  United  States  that  also

 produced  earthquake-like  activity.
March 12, 1994
Akzo Nobel salt mine in western New York, seismic reading of 3.6.
Feb. 3, 1995
mine in southwestern Wyoming, seismic reading of 5.4.
Jan. 19, 1999
Coal mine 15 miles northeast of Tuscaloosa, Ala., seismic reading of 4.0.
May 13, 1999
Abandoned mine under Kansas City, Kan., seismic reading of 3.0.
Jan. 29, 2000
mine in southwestern Wyoming, seismic reading of 4.4.
March 6, 2000
Mine in central Utah, seismic reading of 4.2.
Nov. 2, 2006
Mine in southwest Virginia, seismic reading of 4.3.

Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in Washington, said the men at the mine were, in fact, conducting retreat mining.

However, Louviere said that exactly what the miners were doing, and whether that led to the collapse, can be answered only after a full investigation.

Retreat mining has been blamed for 13 deaths since 2000, and the government requires mining companies to submit a roof control plan before beginning such mining. Such a plan details how and when the pillars will be cut and in what order.

The mine had submitted such a plan and received approval in 2006, Louviere said.

“As long as they abide by that plan, it can be a very safe form of mining,” she said. “What we’ve found with recent fatalities that the operator was found to not be following the roof control plan.”

More than a day and a half after the cave-in, rescuers were unable to say whether the men were dead or alive, and had not even heard any pounding from their hammers, as miners are trained to do when they get trapped.

“The Lord has already decided whether they’re alive or dead,” Murray said. “But it’s up to Bob Murray and my management to get access to them as quickly as we can.”

Drilling in the hopes of communicating

Two holes were being drilled vertically in an attempt to get air and food to the miners and to communicate with them, said Richard Stickler, head of the MSHA, at a news conference.

If the men were not killed by the cave-in itself, Murray said, he believed there was enough air and water for them to survive for days or “for perhaps weeks.” But the government’s chief mine inspector in the West was not as confident.

“We’re hoping there’s air down there. We have no way of knowing that,” said MSHA’s Al Davis.

There were 30 pieces of heavy mining equipment in place and 134 people dedicated to the rescue, Murray said. Two C-130s from the Air Reserve in Pittsburgh were being sent with seismic equipment and staff.

The trapped miners were believed to be about 3½ miles inside the mine, situated 140 miles south of Salt Lake City. Rescuers were able to get within 1,700 feet Monday but had advanced only 310 feet more, Murray said around midday Tuesday.

“Progress has been too slow, too slow,” Murray said.

Stickler arrived from Washington and said “ongoing seismic activity, bumps, movements of the mountain” had forced rescuers to move slowly.

Before the work was stopped Tuesday, mine shafts were being reinforced with timber and steel beams, and ventilation systems were being repaired, he said.

Stickler would not comment on whether retreat mining caused the collapse but said the practice has been used there to extract coal.

Dynamite to be used
After meeting privately with family members of the miners, Murray outlined plans to bulldoze a mountain path and erect a seismic listening device outside the mine that could reveal whether any men were alive.

He said that once the device was in place, crews would set off dynamite, a sign to miners to tap the ceiling with hammers.

Four miners escaped, but they were not in the same area as their trapped brethren, according to Murray.

During a rambling and often angry news conference, Murray lashed out at The Associated Press and Fox News for suggesting the men were retreat mining at the time. “The damage in the mine was totally unrelated to any retreat mining,” Murray said. “The pillars were not being removed here at the time of the accident. There are eight solid pillars around where the men are right now.”

On Monday, seismograph stations recorded seismic waves of 3.9 magnitude, and authorities briefly thought the ground shaking was an earthquake.

Murray Energy insisted the cave-in was caused by an earthquake, saying the ground shaking was in a spot 3,500 feet deeper than where the miners were. The company also claimed the shaking lasted four minutes.

But the University of Utah Seismograph Stations and Jim Dewey of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver said it appeared the trembling was caused by the cave-in.

Mine collapses have a seismic signature distinct from earthquakes because they tend to occur at shallower depths and at different frequencies.

The first motions of the Utah disturbance indicated a downward movement consistent with a collapse, scientists said. If it had been an earthquake, it would have produced up and down motions on the seismograms, they said.

Three Mexican citizens among missing
Little was known about the six miners; only one has been identified. The Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City said three of the men are Mexican citizens.

In Huntington, 10 miles from the mine, residents were anxious for news, and the strain could be seen in their somber looks. The families of the trapped miners were sequestered at a junior high school in Huntington, about six miles from the mine, and police stood guard on the grounds.

LaRena Collards, 71, was making cakes for families of the trapped miners, just as she did in 1984 when a fire killed 27 people at another mine.

“You just ask the Lord to bless the families and give them the strength to get through this,” Collards said.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Rescuer deaths come as 'hard blow' to anguish-ridden Utah mine community

Associated Press - August 17, 2007 9:03 AM ET

HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) - The mine cave-in deaths of 3 Utah rescue workers are being described as "a really hard blow to swallow." The mayor of Huntington, Utah, Hilary Gordon, tells CNN that everyone in the community has spent the past week and a-half "trying to hope in their own individual way."

A seismic "bump" caused the cave-in and has halted efforts to reach six trapped miners. In addition to the deaths, six rescue workers were hurt. Everyone has been evacuated from the mine.

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman says he does not want underground tunneling to resume, but that the decision rests with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Mayor Gordon says crews are still looking to finish drilling the fourth hole through the top of the mountain to try to find out what happened to the trapped miners. She doesn't think searchers are going to be doing any mining down in the bottom again.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Hope of Finding Trapped Miners Fades

Miners' Relatives Say Federal Officials, Mine Owners Have 'Given Up'
Posted: 2007-08-19
Filed Under: Nation News
HUNTINGTON, Utah (Aug. 19, 2007) -- Six coal miners  caught in a cave-in may never be found and could forever be lost to 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.

"We are here at the mercies of the officials in charge and their so-called experts. Precious time is being squandered here, and we do not have time to spare," Olsen said.

A rescue capsule was used in 2002 to pluck nine trapped miners from the flooded Quecreek mine in western Pennsylvania. But those miners were only about 230 feet below the surface, and the drilling took place on a gently rolling dairy farm.

The Utah miners are believed to be more than 1,500 feet beneath the surface, with drillers having to work atop a steep sandstone cliff.

Also, at Quecreek, rescue workes, heard tapping sounds hours after the miners became trapped, indicating at least some of them were live. Work began on the rescue shaft later that day, and the whole ordeal was over in just over three days.

At Crandall Canyon, there has been little evidence that the six miners survived the initial Aug. 6 collapse. Workers have gained limited access to the mine through four boreholes into which video cameras and microphones were lowered. Rescuers banged on a drill bit and set off explosives Saturday, hoping to elicit a response, but heard none.

Video images taken from the fourth hole showed signs of collapse in the cavern but no indication the miners were there, said Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration.

Engineering experts from around the nation gathered at the mine Sunday to try to figure out a safe way of reaching the missing men. Underground tunneling has been halted since Thursday's deaths, and 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," he said.

Moore had been far more upbeat Saturday night, when he insisted the men may be alive. But he said oxygen readings and video images taken from the fourth hole had changed his mind about the miners' probable fate. Oxygen levels in the hole are just 11 to 12 percent, incompatible with life. Normal oxygen levels are 21 percent.

Workers started Sunday on a fifth borehole into the mountain, more than 2,000 feet down, but Moore said he expected to find insufficient air in that hole as well.

"Our thoughts and our prayers and our deepest sympathies go out to the families - for all those families involved in the two tragedies here," he said.

Moore met with family members Sunday morning for what he called a "very difficult, very emotional" discussion. He said their response then was one of frustration, not anger.

"They're responding as I'm sure any of us would respond. They want to see their loved ones again. I want to be able to provide that but I can't give any guarantees we're going to be able to," he said.

MSHA summoned experts from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, West Virginia University and private engineering firms in the hope that they can develop a safer way of tunneling toward the trapped miners.

The challenge is daunting. No support system can withstand the explosive force of a mountain bump because those forces are nearly impossible to predict, Stickler said. Once one coal pillar collapses, the weight it had carried gets transferred to adjacent coal pillars, setting off a chain reaction.

"The mountain continues to be active, continues to move," Stickler said Sunday. "As the weight causes pillar failures in one area of the mine, then that weight is shifted to adjacent pillars and that process seems to be migrating out from the original area where the bump activity started."

The experts were studying mine maps and planned to go underground, into a part of the mine deemed safe, to examine the coal pillars holding up the roof.

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 other parts of the 5,000-acre mine, and the company expected to resume operations at some point. He said he didn't discuss that prospect with family members.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.
Aug. 20, 2007, 11:03AM
Hope All but Extinguished at Utah Mine
HUNTINGTON, Utah — A mine company attorney said Monday that safety experts believe drilling a bigger hole and sending a rescue capsule into the coal mine where six men have been trapped for two weeks is impossible because the mountain is too unstable.

"It's an unsafe activity," Murray Energy Corp. lawyer Chris Van Bever said, commenting a day after relatives of the six miners pleaded for rescue efforts to continue.

Van Bever said there had been no decision yet to call off the rescue effort. Decisions about drilling a rescue hole and continuing with other rescue activities were being made jointly by federal and company officials in consultation with mining experts, he said.

The capsule had been considered a last option since three rescue workers were killed and six others injured Thursday as they tried to tunnel through rubble-filled mine passageways.

Family were outraged Sunday after grim officials said the missing miners may never been be found.

Mine officials had sustained hope for two weeks that the miners would be brought out alive. However, repeated efforts to signal the men have been met with silence, and air readings from a fourth narrow hole drilled more than 1,500 feet into the mountainside detected insufficient oxygen to support life in that part of the mine. Other bore holes indicated better air in other cavities but no signs of the miners.

Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the Crandall Canyon Mine, expressed doubt that the tunneling operation, halted since Thursday's deaths, would resume.

"It's likely these miners may not be found," Moore said.

Family members of the six miners trapped in the Aug. 6 cave-in accused the mine's owners and federal officials of abandoning their loved ones.

"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 a statement Sunday night as about 70 relatives of the trapped miners stood behind him.

"We are here at the mercies of the officials in charge and their so-called experts. Precious time is being squandered here, and we do not have time to spare," Olsen said.

The families demanded that rescuers immediately begin drilling a wider hole into which a rescue capsule could be lowered. Olsen said the families believe it is "the safest and most effective method to rescue their loved ones."

"If rescue is not possible," he added, "the capsule is the only method to recover our loved ones so that they can have a proper burial."

A rescue capsule was used in 2002 to lift nine trapped miners from the flooded Quecreek mine in western Pennsylvania. But those miners were only about 230 feet below the surface, and the drill rig was set up on a gently rolling dairy farm. The Utah miners are about 1,500 feet underground.

Moore had been far more upbeat earlier in the weekend, but on Sunday he said oxygen readings and video images taken from the fourth hole had changed his mind about the miners' probable fate. The oxygen level in the hole was just 11 to 12 percent, incompatible with life. Normal oxygen level is 21 percent.

Workers started Sunday on a fifth bore hole, which would have to penetrate more than 2,000 feet into the mountain, but Moore said he expected to find insufficient air there, too.

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 other parts of the 5,000-acre mine, and the company expected to resume operations at some point. He said he didn't discuss that prospect with family members.


Associated Press Writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

Official Says Utah Miners Likely Buried Aug 21 03:20 AM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writers

 CASTLE DALE, Utah (AP) - Cody Allred closes his eyes and pictures his father and five other miners sitting in the impenetrable darkness of a collapsed mine waiting for a sign, any sign of rescue.

"I picture my dad wondering `Where the hell are they? Any time now,'" he said.

Federal and mine officials are less hopeful. Knowing there has been no sign of life since the men went missing more than two weeks ago, they say the miners may be forever entombed in the mountain.

"I don't know whether the miners will be found, but I'm not optimistic they will be found alive," Bob Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the mine, said at a news conference Monday night.

Even as the community prepared Tuesday to say goodbye to Dale Black, a rescuer killed while trying to find the men in central Utah's Crandall Canyon mine, the families and officials were at odds over whether enough had been done.

Searchers were expected to finish drilling a fifth hole by Tuesday night, but federal officials didn't anticipate air readings that would indicate enough oxygen to support life.

Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, said safety consultants brought in over the weekend have determined the shaking and shifting of the mountain is too risky to let rescuers resume tunneling to try to reach the men, who have been trapped since the Aug. 6 cave-in.

The tunneling stopped after three rescue workers were killed and six were injured when the shaft they were working in collapsed Thursday night.

Murray, who disappeared from public view after that collapse, met Monday with miners' relatives who have accused him of abandoning them and their loved ones.

He said he told the families their relatives would likely remain buried in the mine. "Their reception to me was probably not good. But at some time, the reality must sink in, and I did it as compassionately as I possibly could," he said.

Family members say they have been frustrated by the pace of the rescue effort and by mine and federal safety officials who have backtracked from early information about the missing miners' location.

"We were asking them questions and not getting straight answers," said Cesar Sanchez, whose brother Manuel Sanchez is among the missing.

Families have pleaded for the use of a rescue capsule that could be lowered through a 30-inch hole that could take weeks to drill.

"We need to get that big hole punched to get them big men out," Cesar Sanchez said.

The capsule had been considered a last, best option since the rescue tunnel collapsed. Such capsules have been used to save miners in other disasters, but the men in the Crandall Canyon mine were thought to be more than 1,000 feet deeper than in previous rescues.

Bob Ferriter, a former MSHA engineer who teaches safety at the Colorado School of Mines, said it wouldn't make sense to spend weeks drilling a large hole for a rescue capsule unless searchers knew where the men were located.

Ferriter said it would be foolish to send a man down a capsule to recover the miners' bodies, given the instability of the mountain and the depth of the hole. There's a chance the capsule could get stuck or that a mountain "bump" could bury the capsule. The air might be inadequate as well, Ferriter said.

"I don't see the advantage of putting a live person down there," Ferriter said. "You could have a bump that closes the hole above him, and then you've lost another guy."

But Steve Allred, the brother of trapped miner Kerry Allred, believes his brother is alive and said the men need to be recovered.

"My brother is trapped underground and I'm hearing that they're basically giving up, and that's unacceptable," he said. "One way or the other we've got to have closure."

For nearly two weeks, mine owners and federal officials had insisted the men might be alive. But repeated efforts to signal the miners have been met with silence, and air readings from a fourth narrow hole drilled more than 1,500 feet into the mountainside showed insufficient oxygen to support life in that part of the mine.

On Monday night, Murray defended MSHA and himself from criticism that they botched the rescue effort and needlessly put rescue workers at risk.

"There was absolutely nothing more that MSHA or Murray Energy or (mine co-owner) Utah American could have done to rescue these trapped miners," he said. "And based on what we knew at the time, we did everything correctly. There were no mistakes."

The missing miners' families called the dead and injured who worked to find their loved ones their "heroes."

"We didn't want to get nobody killed; we still don't want to get nobody hurt," Sanchez said. "I work with those men, and I know they were digging. If they would have had to dig with their hands, they would have done it, because they wanted them other six men out alive."


Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Price and Mike Rubinkam in Huntington contributed to this report.

August 28, 2007


by Jennifer Dobner and Chelsea J. Carter
The Associated Press

Huntington, Utah - As seismologist who detected ground tremors was the first to notify authorities of the cave-in that trapped six miners, even before mine officials called for an ambulance, according to 911 recordings.

University of Utah seismologist Walter Arabasz made his call about a potential problem at Crandall Canyon mine early on Aug. 6, four minutes before mine officials made their call.

The 911 tapes obtained Monday by The Associated Press showed that from the earliest moments, scientists suspected the shaking came from a mine collapse, not a natural earthquake, as mine co-owner Bob Murray has maintained throughout the ordeal.

"Just from the general character of the seismic event, it looks like it might be a coal mining event, Arabasz said on the tapes.

Also Monday, bad weather delayed drilling on a seventh hole and posponed plans to drop a $100,000 robotic camera into an earlier hole for a long-shot effort to locate the men.

"There's a lot of rain," Colin King, an attorney for the families, said after a briefing from federal mine safety officials. He said the road had been washed out in places.

As the saga entered a fourth week, Emery County authorities released tapes that described the early hours of the disaster.

The first 911 call came at 3:47 a.m. from Arabasz in Salt Lake City, 120 miles north of the mine. At 3:51 a.m., a mine employee called for an ambulance.

"We had a big cave-in up here, and we are probably gonna need an ambulance. We're not for sure yet because we haven't heard from anybody in the section, a voice identifying himself as Mark Toomer told a 911 dispatcher. "But, we're mostly likely going to need one up here."

Arabasz told the dispatcher the seismic event registered as 4.0 magnitude at 2:48 a.m. and it was 3.1 miles west-southwest of the mine entrance. The severity of the event later was revised to 3.9 magnitude.

The six miners have not been heard from since the cave-in, which filled mine shaft with rock and coal in the area where the men were working. No one knows whether the men survived the collapse.

Mine officials and federal regulators have worked unsuccessfully to locate the miners, drilling a half-dozen vertical holes into the mountain in hopes of finding signs of life.

Horizontal tunneling through the tons of debris was halted Aug.1 6 after a second cave-in killed three rescuers, including a federal safety inspector, and injured six others.

It was unclear when the seventh hole would be finished. If the camera works, images were expected late Monday.

The camera is similar to one used to search the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the 2001 Terrorist attacks in New York City. It can take images from about 50 feet away with the help of a 200-watt light. It can travel 1,000 feet and has some ability to move around the rubble.

It was not known for certain whether the camera would fit into the narrow hole or move past rock and other debris before gaining access to the mine.

"There is no indication they are giving up." King said of the rescuers. "think they are genuinely anxious to see if this robotic camera gets some results for them, and they did put it down the hole enough to see this is going to work."

Also Monday, the state's new Mine Safety Commission met for the first time, Gov. Joe Huntsman told the panel that he wanted members to determine whether Utah should take over safety regulation of the state's 13 coal mines. A report is expected in the fall.

Utah surrendered oversight of mine safety in 1977 to the federal government. At the time, Utah had just there safety inspectors for all its coal and hard-metal mines, said Democratic state Sen. Mike Dmitrich, a member of Huntsman's panel.

In the nation's capital, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee asked the mine's oeprator for a host of documents about safety conditions.

Robotic camera can't get down 7th hole in Utah mine

Associated Press
Aug. 30, 2007 05:58 PM

SALT LAKE CITY - A video camera lowered down a seventh hole Thursday in search of six miners trapped Aug. 6 in a huge cave-in found only 2 1/2 feet of clear space and a pile of rubble and mud 7 feet high, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said.

The seventh hole started plugging up with mud and rubble at a rate of 5 feet per hour, making it impossible for technicians to get a special robotic camera 1,856 feet down into the mine to look for signs of the men, who haven't been heard from since the collapse, said Rich Kulczewski, an MSHA spokesman. It's not known if the six men survived.

Another hole drilled earlier also was tried, but the mud and rubble conditions were similar, he said.
"That was a disappointment. There's no doubt about it," Kulczewski said at a news conference in Huntington.

The robotic camera is 8 inches wide, going down holes only a fraction wider, but if it can get down one of them, it has the ability to maneuver as much as 1,000 feet into the mine.

After the crews broke through the seventh hole about 4:15 a.m. Thursday, they rapped on the drill steel to try to signal the miners, but there was no response.

A decision was made to lower the robotic camera Thursday evening into a hole drilled Aug. 18 - despite an earlier determination that there was a high risk of losing the robotic camera in the effort, Kulczewski said. There was no estimate of how long that would take.

"We haven't given up, but we're running out of possibilities," Kulczewski said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department said an independent review will be conducted of MSHA's handling of the Utah mine disaster. Separately, MSHA announced its own investigation, led by the man who was in charge of the review of the Sago mine tragedy in West Virginia, where 12 people died in January 2006.

Richard Gates, an MSHA district manager in Alabama, has been with the agency for 19 years.

"MSHA's investigation will fully examine all available evidence to find the cause of the ground failure at Crandall Canyon mine and any violations of safety and health standards," MSHA chief Richard Stickler said in a statement.

Six miners have been trapped more than 1,500 feet below ground since Aug. 6. It is not known if they are dead or alive. Three rescuers trying to tunnel to the men died during another collapse Aug. 16.

Stickler said the investigation at Crandall Canyon would involve people who have no ties to MSHA's Western district, which oversees safety at the mine, 120 miles south of Salt Lake City.

They include Timothy Watkins, assistant district manager in Kentucky who has ventilation and retreat mining experience; Gary Smith, a supervisor in Pennsylvania who has roof-control expertise; and Joseph O'Donnell who is based in MSHA's district office in Alabama.

Hours after Stickler's announcement, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said an independent team of mine-safety experts will review MSHA's handling of the Crandall Canyon mine accident.

The review will look at MSHA's actions before the collapse and during the subsequent rescue operations. The agency is an arm of the Labor Department.

Leading that review will be Joseph Pavlovich of Gray, Ky., a former MSHA district manager and expert on mine rescue, and Earnest Teaster Jr. of King George, Va., a former MSHA administrator for coal-mine safety. Each has been in charge of three post-accident internal reviews.

They have a broad mandate, including a study of all mine plans and inspection records and interviews with MSHA employees.

Chao "picked two fine people to lead the review," said Tony Oppegard, a lawyer in Lexington, Ky., who was a senior MSHA official in the Clinton administration and also a mine-safety prosecutor in Kentucky.

"The internal reviews that MSHA does, they can be informative and helpful, but it also places a lot of pressure on the people who do the review," Oppegard said.

He said Pavlovich and Teaster should have a "no-holds-barred approach."

The United Mine Workers of America, however, said the review would not be independent. The union, which does not represent Crandall Canyon miners, has been very critical of mine executives and MSHA.

"A truly independent investigation would be done by people who are from outside the agency with no ties to MSHA or its employees," President Cecil Roberts said in a statement.

University of Utah seismologists insist the Crandall Canyon cave-in was violent enough to cause a 3.9 magnitude earthquake. The mine's co-owner, Murray Energy Corp., claims a natural earthquake caused the disaster.

Funeral Masses planned for Catholic miners
by Barbara Stinson Lee
Intermountain Catholic

Statement of Bishop John c. Wester on the deaths in the Crandall Mine

On behalf of the Catholic community in Utah, I pray that the souls of the nine miners lost in the Crandall Canyon Mine may rest in peace. We pray also for the comfort of their families and friends.

In addition to the gift of our prayers, I hope that we also give the families the comfort of knowing how deeply grateful we are to those who work in dangerous occupations so that we can enjoy a better quality of life.

+Most Reverend
John C. Wester
Bishop of Salt Lake City

HUNTINGTON — A funeral Mass will be celebrated Thursday, Sept. 6, at 6 p.m. at San Rafael Mission in Huntington for Luís Hernandez and Juan Carlos Payan, two of the six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine, said Father Donald E. Hope, pastor of Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish, Price. A funeral Mass will be celebrated for Manuel “Manny” Sanchez Sept. 15, at noon at Notre Dame de Lourdes Church in Price.

Fr. Hope said plans were made for the Masses after consultation with the families Sept. 4. “In the cases of some of these miners, family members who have been here throughout the search need to return to Mexico Friday.”

After 25 days of searching, of waiting and watching and praying, officials of the Crandall Canyon Mine and MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) suspended the search for the six trapped miners Aug. 31. In effect they declared Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luís Hernandez, Juan Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips, and Manuel “Manny” Sanchez “presumed dead.”

The six were trapped in a mine collapse Aug. 6, the extent of which no one seemed to know until bore hole after bore hole, drilled in search of the six missing miners, revealed only rubble, caved in mine walls, and mine floors that had cracked and pitched upward. Two rescue miners, Dale Ray Black and Brandon Kimber, and MSHA Inspector Gary Jensen were killed Aug. 16 in a second collapse in a feverish attempt to locate and rescue those who were trapped.

An ecumenical memorial service, planned at the urging of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, is slated for Sept. 9. Bishop John C. Wester of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, will participate in that service.

In a touching attempt to reach out to the Utah miners’ families, a message of solidarity and support was sent to them from the families of 63 miners killed in a mine explosion Feb. 2, 2006, in Coahuila, Mexico.

The message was delivered by the families to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Mexico and translated by CRS staff into English. CRS forwarded the message to Dee Rowland, government liaison for the Diocese of Salt Lake City. The message read:

“To the family members of the six Utah miners waiting to hear news of your loved ones: We have lived through the same thing that you are experiencing now. We understand your anguish and desperation. We experienced the same feelings we know you are experiencing now. On behalf of the family members of the 65 coal miners killed in the explosion at Pasta de Conchos on February 2, 2006, 63 of whom are still buried in the mine, we send you our prayers and solidarity.

“We hope that you are receiving all the support that you deserve during this crisis and that as family members you are being heard by the authorities and the mining company. Know that our heartfelt prayers are with you as we continue to follow the case through the news reports we are receiving in Mexico. God be with you and give you strength.”

The message was signed by by Elvira Martinez Espinosa, Maria Trinidad Cantú, and Raúl Villasana, in name of the rest of the family members of the Pasta de Conchos miners (Municipality of San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila, Mexico).




Mines Crumble Under Kansas Town

GALENA, Kan. (AP) — Some mine disasters happen in a flash, like the Utah cave-in last month that apparently entombed six coal miners. Others unfold in slow motion.

That's the case in Galena, where hundreds of now-abandoned lead and zinc mines dug underneath the small town by prospectors in the late 19th century are threatening to swallow much of the aging brick downtown area, including banks, offices, stores, houses, even City Hall.

The sedimentary rock that forms the ceilings of the old mine tunnels is falling into the empty spaces underground, one layer at a time. With each fallen layer, the tunnel moves closer to the surface.

"It's a very slow, creeping catastrophe that's happening," Mayor Dale Oglesby said.

Now the town of about 3,000 is embarking on a multimillion-dollar effort to find and fill in the web of mines underneath 60 percent of the town.

Galena, named for lead ore, was born as a mining town and incorporated in 1877. An 1890s photo shows a bustling Main Street, the sidewalks packed with people, the street full of horse-drawn buggies.

Now, the six or so blocks of Main Street are quiet. Two-story brick buildings house law offices, sandwich shops and flea markets, with occasional vacant storefronts and empty lots.

The city wants to revitalize downtown by making a tourist attraction out of the stretch of old Route 66 that runs through Galena. But Galena officials fear the risk of a building collapse could chase off investors.

"Because it is slow, we have time to do something about it. If we don't act, once you get past that point of no return, it can happen fast," the mayor said.

As he made that statement, Oglesby was standing next to a fearsome example of what may await Galena: Nearby were the crumbling remains of a brick building that was the town's only bar until a mine collapsed behind it last summer.

The front of the two-story building that had housed the Green Parrot bar since 1942 looked intact from Main Street. But the back part of the building sagged into a sunken backyard.

Galena officials can recount story after story of collapsed mines, like the time the ground opened up under the police impound yard and swallowed up two or three cars. But the Green Parrot was the first loss of a structure.

Town leaders were so alarmed they quickly formed a task force that led to the plan to fill the manmade caverns.

"It's time. This could save my business and let the old downtown develop," said Robert Edge, who owns a knife business across the street from the Green Parrot.

Starting this month, Galena will spend $500,000 in federal, state and local funds to drill up to 300 holes. The results will be used to update mining maps from the 1930s and establish which mines are getting dangerously close to caving in.

Then the town will start on a multiyear program of filling mines under buildings with a cement-like mix of fly ash and water. Mines closer than 25 feet to the surface will be the top priority.

Money has been secured for only the initial phase so far. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has estimated it could take 20 years and more than $60 million to fill all the mines.

Oglesby said that figure is too high, though he does not have an estimate of his own. He said the state estimate includes larger, more professional mines as deep as 150 feet that will not be a target of the city's program because they are more stable.

The mines threatening the city are small and relatively shallow, created by individual prospectors who dug shafts as deep as 60 feet and then tunneled sideways as far as they could, sometimes just 25 feet.

The mayor recalled one photo from the 1890s of a miner driving a shaft on a vacant lot next to a downtown bank.

"People back then weren't thinking 100 years in advance," Oglesby said.


Some 3,000 gold miners were trapped a mile underground Wednesday when falling pipe damaged the elevator, but the company began rescuing workers through a smaller shaft and estimated it would take 10 hours to get them all out.

There were no injuries and there was no immediate danger to any of the workers in Harmony Gold Mining Co.'s Elandsrand Mine, company and union officials said.

Peter Bailey, health and safety chairman for the National Mineworkers Union, said the first 74 men reached the surface shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday. "They are all doing well," he said.

Sethiri Thibile, one of the first miners rescued, clutched a cold beef sandwich and a bottle of water he was given when he reached the surface.

"I was hungry, though we were all hungry," said Thibile, 32, an engineering assistant who had been underground since 5 a.m. Wednesday. He said there was no food or water in the mine.

"Most of the people are scared and we also have some women miners there underground," said Thibile.

After Thibile's group rescued, Harmony's acting chief executive Graham Briggs told The Associated Press that another 75 would be evacuated shortly, and after that they would be brought to the surface at intervals of every 25 to 30 minutes.

"It's going to take some time because we are doing it carefully," he said, adding the rescue could take 10 hours. "Nobody is injured, nobody is hurt, nothing like that at all."

Deon Boqwana, regional chairman for the union, said there was ventilation for the miners waiting below ground and officials were in contact with the men by a telephone line in the mine.

"They are still in good condition but are angry, hungry, frustrated and want to get out of there," Boqwana said.

He said the miners were a little over a mile below the surface in a mine that at some points is more than one mile deep. The mine is outside Carletonville, a town near Johannesburg.

Boqwana said the smaller cage being used to bring miners out can hold about 75 miners at a time. He said it normally takes three minutes to reach the surface but would be slower because rescuers were being careful. He said the evacuation would take about 10 hours.

Bailey, the union health chairman, said the miners were "very afraid," hungry and thirsty after being underground for hours.

"Some of these mineworkers started duty on Tuesday evening. It is now Wednesday night and they are still underground," he said.

A spokesman for the union, Lesiba Seshoka, said charged that the mine was not properly maintained.

"Our guys there tell us that they have raised concerns about the whole issue of maintenance of shafts with the mine (managers) but they have not been attended to," he said.

Briggs rejected union criticism about safety conditions, and said the shaft was in very good condition with a lot of new infrastructure.

Last year, 199 mineworkers died in accidents, mostly rock falls, the government Mine Health and Safety Council reported in September.


Mine Disaster Is Latest Discord For Harmony Gold
Ruthie Ackerman 10.03.07, 8:52 PM ET

The ground literally seems to be caving in for Harmony Gold. The world's fifth-largest gold producer was already facing higher costs and decreased production before a mining accident that left 3,200 workers trapped deep underground Wednesday. The incident and accusations from workers that it has skimped on safety are likely to increase the heat on the struggling company, and could further raise costs.

South African rescue workers were struggling early Thursday morning to save the lives of 3,200 miners trapped more than a mile below ground by the collapse of a water pipe.

More than 12 hours after the accident at Harmony's Elandsrand Mine in Carletonville near Johannesburg, union officials said that 74 miners had been lifted to the surface.

Deon Boqwana, a regional chairman for the miners union, told the Associated Press that the workers were trapped slightly more than a mile below ground in the mine, which, at some points, is about a mile and a half deep. The company said that a collapsing column of water pipes fell in the shaft of the elevator that brings miners to the surface, causing extensive damage to the steel framework and to the electrical feeder cables.

Peter Bailey, national health and safety chairman of the miners union, said the miners were "very afraid" and were hungry and thirsty after being underground for such a long time.

"Some of these mineworkers started duty on Tuesday evening. It is now Wednesday night and they are still underground," he said at the scene.

A spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, Lesiba Seshoka, charged that the mine's shafts were not properly maintained. "Our guys there tell us that they have raised concerns about the whole issue of maintenance of shafts with the mine [managers] but they have not been attended to," he said.

Last year, 199 South African mineworkers died in accidents, mostly rock falls, the government Mine Health and Safety Council reported in September.

Harmony is the world's fifth-largest gold producer.

Last month, a fire raged for more than nine days at Harmony’s St. Helena Mine near Welkom in the Free State, significantly impacting production.

Barnard Jacobs Mellet analyst Patrick Chidley said that while safety is an issue at all mines, it is even more challenging in South Africa, where the playing out of near-surface deposits has forced miners to dig to great depths, employing large numbers deep underground. “This makes the mines more difficult to manage and makes it a more dangerous environment by default,” he said.

Harmony spokeswoman Amelia Soares said that the rescue effort could last well into Thursday morning as rescuers try to lift workers out in small batches. “If the rope has gone all the way down the shaft this could take a long time to fix and it’s often quite precarious and difficult work to clean up this sort of accident,” said Chidley. “There’s a high possibility that this mine will be shut for some time.”

South Africa is the world’s second-largest producer of gold and Harmony is Africa’s third-largest gold producer. The Elandsrand mine produces about 8% of Harmony’s South Africa production. In 2006 Harmony produced 67 tons of gold with 5.3 tons being produced at Elandsrand.

But South Africa’s gold production has fallen in the last few decades as mines have become overmined and mining companies have to dig deeper to find more gold reserves. In 2006, South Africa’s total production was 275 tons compared to 1,000 tons in 1970. “The whole industry keeps getting deeper and the deeper you get the more problems you’re likely to have,” Chidley said.

The deeper mining companies have to dig to reach gold, the more costly the process becomes. With Harmony gold under severe financial strain, higher costs can only spell trouble.

Last month, the mining company slashed its third-quarter profit forecast and announced the abrupt resignation of Chief Executive Bernard Swanepoel. The sudden removal of Swanepoel, who had served as CEO for 12 years, shocked industry observers. (See “ Discord at Harmony Mining?”)

The company provided little explanation about the departure, even as it gave a rough snapshot of its production and cost control problems. (See: "Harmony's Gold Squeeze" )

Harmony said third-quarter profits will "differ significantly" from previous quarters because of lower production and higher overhead costs. In the third quarter, gold production slipped 8% to 12% due to production problems at various sites.

If new safety measures are needed as a result of Wednesday’s accident, Chidley said, costs will go up even more and production will continue to decline as increased safety makes it more difficult to operate in the deep mines.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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