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Rescuers see underground space but no miners in Utah mine video

CHRIS KAHNAssociated Press WriterGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) Video from a camera lowered deep into a shattered coal mine dimly showed pieces of equipment Monday but no sign of six miners missing eight days.Its absolutely heartbreaking that we havent found them alive, said Bob Murray, head of mine co-owner Murray Energy Corp., adding that nothing was being spared in what officials continued to call a rescue effort.The video recorded Sunday evening showed water dripping in front of the lens as light faintly illuminated objects a chain, a twisted conveyor belt, a tool bag 10 to 15 feet away.The images were released as rescuers prepared to drill a third hole in an effort to locate the miners. A 2 1/2-inch-wide hole and a nearly 9-inch-wide hole drilled last week have found no sign of life where the miners were working when a collapse hit the Crandall Canyon mine Aug. 6.Twelve of the 80 miners working on the rescue have asked to be reassigned because they were frightened by what Murray tectonic activity.We have had some miners that have been working in the rescue effort that have asked to be relieved. Theyve been somewhat frightened.Meanwhile, suggestions of trouble at the mine earlier this year surfaced in a memo from an engineering firm to the mine operators concerning earth movement that damaged a different underground area.The video was shown earlier in the day to families of the miners, who gather daily at a school in Huntington to be briefed by rescue officials.We spent considerable time with them explaining all the detail, said Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.The families are holding up better than you can imagine, Murray said. The strength of these people is amazing.Al Davis of the MSHA said the video showed what appeared to be five to seven feet of vertical space.He said the view was basically what was seen in earlier attempts with the camera, but with better resolution.We had better light, but light is still the problem, Davis said.Rescuers were encouraged, however, he said.We see a lot of open area. We see good height. Space is what they need and we saw a lot of space, he said.The new 8 5/8-inch hole was to be drilled to an area to which the miners might have fled after finding escape routes blocked. Stickler said the concussion of the original earth movement may have trapped good air there. The new drilling, which required 1,300 feet of new road to move the rig, had yet to begin at 2 p.m. MDT Monday.Family members have previously talked to news media after the private official briefings at a school in Huntington. On Monday, sheriffs deputies moved reporters far away from the school after journalists gathered around Stickler as he left the briefing.Rescue leaders have said there is no reason to give up hope, but the increasing emotional wear on the relatives has been evident in recent days.Mining rescues after eight or more days are not unheard of. In May 2006, two miners were rescued after being trapped for 14 days following a collapse at an Australian mine. In 2002, nine coal miners were rescued after surviving eight days in a mine in northwestern China. In 1968, six miners were rescued after 10 days in West Virginia, just days after a group of 15 miners were pulled out after five days.Murray has blamed an earthquake for the collapse, although seismologists say there was no quake.The mine sprawls underneath a mountain in a forest 140 miles south of Salt Lake City.The drilling is an attempt to locate the miners while rescuers slowly clear a blocked horizontal access route to where the men were working 3.4 miles from the entrance.The blockage began about 2,000 feet from the miners presumed location and as of Monday afternoon the rescuers had advanced 645 feet. Officials said progress was slow because of the need to install extensive roof and wall supports in the tunnel. Forecast rain threatened to further hamper efforts Monday.The first two holes were drilled from positions on the sides of the mountain above the mine. A small, fast rig was hoisted onto the mountain by a helicopter, while a road had to be carved to bring up the larger rig. Both had to bore more than 1,800 feet deep.A microphone lowered down the 2 1/2-inch hole heard nothing, and air samples sucked up the hole revealed just over 7 percent oxygen not enough to sustain life. Air was then pumped down.After the larger drill finished the second hole, rescuers banged on the steel shaft to try to signal the miners. There was no response, and rescuers began using the camera.According to a memo for the operators of the mine, structural problems in the mine caused heavy damage to two entries in the mines north panel in March and led the company to abandon mining in the section altogether.But the company did not give up on the mine. Instead, it hired Agapito Associates Inc., a Grand Junction, Colo., engineering firm, to analyze how to safely mine the southern sections.The operators were mining directly across from the panel that was damaged in March when it collapsed last week.Agapitos April 18 memo to mine co-owner and operator UtahAmerican Energy Inc. was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday. It was first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.The memo said the operators were retreat mining a common but sometimes dangerous practice that involves pulling out leftover sections and pillars of coal that hold up the roof.Although Murray has denied that the company was retreat mining at the time of last weeks accident, MSHA officials have said they approved a plan for the mine to engage in retreat mining.Murray said Sunday that it was Agapito that recommended the Crandall Canyons mining plan and he asserted that it was perfectly safe.Weve had a once-in-a-lifetime disaster here, Murray said. This has not happened before. We have never seen seismic activity as occurred in this case.In the March incident, the miners had just pulled two pillars when a large bump occurred resulting in heavy damage to nearby entries.The remaining north panel was abandoned in favor of mining the south barrier, the memo reads.A bump is caused when pressure on the coal pillars causes them to instantaneously explode into a mine opening.A Bureau of Mines report on the causes and control of coal mine bumps said bumps are most common in deep mines, such as those in the West. According to the report by two of the bureaus mining engineers K.Y. Haramy and J.P. McDonnell, Western coal reserves are deep and steeply dipping, often having thick, massive sandstone layers in close proximity to the seam, and therefore may be more prone to bumps.Tony Oppegard, a former top federal and state of Kentucky mine safety official who represents miners as a private attorney in Lexington, Ky., questioned the decision by MSHA and the mine company to continue retreat mining after the March incident.He said it was especially questionable since two outer areas of the mine had already been caved in through longwall mining, which causes the roof to collapse as coal is being removed.Murray Energy and UtahAmerican could have decided to abandon the mine, Oppegard said Monday. I think it was questionable in those instances.Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell, Brock Vergakis and Paul Foy in Huntington and Jennifer Talhelm in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.


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