Utah mine rescue drilling to take longer than expected
HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) A drilling effort to try to make contact with six miners trapped in a collapsed coal mine was still some 130 feet from reaching their presumed location late Thursday, rescue officials said. They declined to estimate when it might succeed.A drill boring a 2 1/2-inch-wide hole had reached a depth of 1,730 feet and needed to reach 1,869 feet, said Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.Rescue leaders had said early in the day that the drill might reach the miners location by late afternoon, but also warned that the pace would slow as the drill went deeper.A bigger drill boring a nearly 9-inch-wide hole had reached 720 feet by late afternoon.Stickler did not offer a timeline for the drills to reach their target depths, but a mining company news release predicted the smaller drill would reach its target early Friday morning.The six miners have not been heard from since early Monday morning when the mine was hit by an earthshaking collapse.Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, said that a motor broke on the larger drill during the day and was replaced. The smaller drills rate had dropped from 60 feet an hour to 20 to 30 feet, he said.I dont want to estimate when we make break through on the cavity. Were hopeful it will be very soon, Moore said.When the small drill reaches the miners depth, it was expected to then take two hours to withdraw the drill and lower a two-way communications device, Moore said. A simple downward-pointing camera with limited visual range will also be lowered.The larger hole will be used to lower a much more capable camera and could also deliver provisions to the men if they are alive.An effort to clear rubble from a horizontal shaft to actually reach the miners was also going slowly, Moore said.Its incredibly labor-intensive, he said, promising to step it up.If the six trapped miners are alive, they may be sitting in inky darkness, their headlamps having burned out. Wearing thin work clothes in the 58-degree cold, they could be chilled to the bone if water is seeping into their chamber 150 stories below ground.How much air they might have is anyones guess.Murray Energy chairman Bob Murray warned earlier that things could go wrong, including equipment breakdowns and the possibility the small drill could deviate off target.We may not come out in the mine where we want to be. We may come out in a solid pillar and have to start all over again, Murray said.The plan was to lower down the hole a device that would listen for the miners, who were trained to banged on roof bolts if they heard a drill.We may get no noise, Murray cautioned. They may be dead.At the time of the collapse the six miners were working in an area with an 8-foot ceiling. Corridors in the mine are typically about 14 feet wide.Im sure their lights have died by now. Im sure its pitch black, said miner Robby Robertson, 27, of Orangeville, Utah, who worked in the mine several years ago. Imagine the darkest place youve ever been.Murray, however, said that if the minors survived the collapse itself, they would probably be spending most of the time in the dark to conserve their headlamp batteries, which are generally good for about 12 hours each.As soon as they realized they were trapped, it is very likely they went down to one light and very likely they went into total darkness a lot of the time and only used that light for the purpose of getting to the materials they need to ensure their survival, Murray said. It wouldnt be bright. It would be like a very, very, large flashlight.Their other materials typically include a half-gallon of water each in coolers, he said.Whether air is flowing into the chamber where they were working or is running out is not known. But officials had some reason for optimism, because there was no fire or explosion to eat up oxygen or poison the air.The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said each miner also should have had at least two emergency air packs, each of which supplies about an hours worth of oxygen. But whether the air packs were within reach is not known.Miners usually wear jeans, sometimes with coveralls on top, and often carry a light denim jacket, Murray said. The steady 58-degree temperature would not be a problem as long as the men were not wet, the mining veteran said.He said the area where the miners are believed to be is thought to be reasonably dry with possibly some water seepage that they could drink.Robertson, the former Crandall miner, said he usually wears thermal underwear, a long-sleeve shirt and overalls, with rubber boots that come up to the knees. Its kind of chilly deep in the mines, he said.Robertson said the men would be helping each other, the older ones being strong for the younger ones.If these people are still alive, Im sure theyre all sitting together. Im sure theyre all just trying to comfort each other. Im sure they know people are trying to get to them, he said. Youre closer to the crew youre on than your own family.In previous accidents, trapped miners have passed the time talking, writing letters to loved ones and praying.You feel helpless because youre depending on someone else to get you out of the situation, said Dennis Hall, one of nine men who survived 77 hours trapped in Pennsylvanias flooded Quecreek Mine in 2002.You do everything you can to try to get out of the situation, but once again, when your backs up against the wall and youve used all your efforts to get out, its a hell of a feeling. And the waiting and wondering is really bad, said Hall, 53, of Johnstown, Pa.Based on his own experience of once being trapped in a mine, Murray said the trapped miners would be confident.Its not bad, because they know people are coming after them. If they had enough air theyre not worried. Well get to them before they die. But youve got to understand they may be dead already, he said.When he was trapped, he said, time went by fast. But, he added, I could hear them coming after me.The mining company has withheld the names of the six miners. The Associated Press has confirmed five identities: Carlos Payan, Don Erickson, Kerry Allred, Manuel Sanchez and Brandon Phillips.The families of the six miners were praying for their survival, one relative said.There are all types of conditions that could be in there for these folks … some little cavity, some little corner, said Arch Allred, cousin of miner Kerry Allred.Murray said that keeping the rescuers safe as they tried to work their way toward the trapped miners was paramount.Some of these men are willing to take chances to get their brothers out, Murray said. We cant allow that.Meanwhile, there were more scientific findings disputing Murrays claim that an earthquake caused the collapse.Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, did their own analysis of Mondays seismic event and determined the seismic waves came from an underground collapse.A day after the mine collapse, a team of technicians from the University of Utah began installing two seismometers one directly on top of the mine and the other to the west of it. They plan to install three to five more seismic instruments in the coming weeks.Associated Press writers Jennifer Dobner, Garance Burke and Brock Vergakis in Huntington, Vicki Smith in Morgantown, W.Va., Daniel Lovering in Pittsburgh and Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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