Utah Mine rescuers looking for signs of life come up empty-handed | PostIndependent.com

Utah Mine rescuers looking for signs of life come up empty-handed

JENNIFER DOBNERAssociated Press WriterGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) The effort to find six coal miners caught in a cave-in took a heartbreaking turn Friday when a narrow hole drilled more than 1,800 feet down into the earth yielded no sounds of life and barely any oxygen.Rescuers refused to give up, clinging to the possibility that the drill they used to try to penetrate the cavity where the men were believed trapped in Mondays collapse may have missed its mark and punched into a neighboring chamber.Now theres no reason to lose hope. There are certain possibilities that these miners are still alive, Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, said at a briefing distinct from earlier news conferences in its brevity.The mother of missing miner Don Erickson refused to be discouraged.We keep getting these other bits and pieces that are encouraging, so were going to hold onto that for now, said the 69-year-old woman, who asked that her name not be used because she did not want to receive calls.Around Huntington, a rugged town of around 2,000, the mens plight evoked a similar, understated reaction, reflecting perhaps the stoicism of a community well-acquainted with the risks of digging coal deep below the earths surface.The six-man mining crew was a ragtag combination of personalities longtime residents and recent Mexican immigrants; grizzled veteran miners and a rookie who had put in just weeks on the job; a bullheaded older guy and a sweet, sweet young man.Rescuers had hoped to get at least some sign of life through the 2 1/2-inch-wide air hole drilled into the Crandall Canyon mine over the past several days.But a tiny microphone lowered down the hole picked up no sounds, and initial positive oxygen readings plunged to levels so low as to be incapable of supporting life.Stickler cautioned that the small drill may have drifted on its long descent through the hard sandstone and may have entered the sealed chamber of an old work area next to where the miners were believed to have been.Rescuers continued using a bigger, more accurate drill to bore a nearly 9-inch-wide hole through which a sophisticated camera, food and water could be lowered. The drill had reached about 1,200 feet around midday, and rescue leaders said it could reach the miners presumed location by Friday night.Separately, rescuers tried to make their way horizontally toward the miners, struggling to push through the rubble in the mine shaft. But it could take another week to actually reach the men and bring them out.Officials had said from the outset that the small drill might be deflected by particularly hard rock or that the shaft might bend under pressure. But they said the drills advantage was that it was fast.The suspicion that it wandered into the wrong chamber was derived from air samples sucked up a tube that was placed in the borehole.Initial readings showed oxygen readings above 20 percent a breathable atmosphere though no sign of carbon dioxide to indicate the exhalations of people.But after the drill was raised a few feet to clear it from debris, the oxygen readings fell to just over 7 percent, similar to the known atmosphere of the old sealed work area.Normal oxygen is 21 percent, Stickler said. Once you get down to 15 percent you start having effects. Once you get down to 7.1 it would not support life for very long.Huntington displayed signs of hope for the miners. Red, yellow and blue ribbons hung from light poles, and over Earls Quality for Less Furniture store a sign declared, We believe. Another sign read: Light up you porch until they come home.Huntington is a town of wide streets lined by small single-story homes with tidy green lawns and some trailer parks. Multiple churches represent various denominations. The lone movie theater shows films four days a week. Yard sales are held on Main Street to support the Boy Scouts.Its residents have sought to protect the privacy of the missing miners families, posting a sign on a Main Street market asking the news media not to bother asking questions.The mining company has not identified the miners, but The Associated Press has learned they are a crew of veterans and novices. According to family, friends and other sources they are: Carlos Payan, in his 20s; Kerry Allred, 57; Manuel Sanchez, 41; Brandon Phillips, 24; Luis Hernandez, age unknown; and Erickson, 50.Ericksons mother described the eldest of her four children as solid, loving and considerate. Hes my wonderful son, she said, breaking into tears. You couldnt ask for better.Married to wife Nelda for about a dozen years, Erickson is a father of two and stepfather to his wifes three children, she said. Nelda Erickson told the AP that her husband loved the outdoors, camping and four-wheeling.Don is a husband, a father, a son, a grandfather and a friend, she said.Payan had not worked very long at the mine and planned to return soon to Mexico, according to two friends. A sister lives in Huntington, and their parents traveled from Mexico after the cave-in.He wasnt out a lot. He just worked and worked and worked, said family friend Iliana Sebreros, 13.Sanchez, 41, has been a miner for 15 years, said a sister, Maria Buenrostro.He is a great human being. Hes a family man and a brother who cant be replaced, said brother Cesar Sanchez. He is a person who has lots of friends and is an enormous worker.The brother said they were both born in Casas Grandes in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.Phillips and Allred had attended high school in Castle Dale, near Huntington.Allred, who played in a rock band while in high school, has three children, all adults, acquaintances said.Bill Tucker, a 60-year-old former miner who lives in Huntington, described Allred as a bullheaded guy who plays guitars and sings George Jones and country western music are his favorites. Tucker and Allred grew up together in Cleveland, Utah. Allreds father taught them both to play guitar, and they often sat around jamming together.Hes always happy. Hes just an all-around good boy, Tucker said. Hes a tough kid. Its just his disposition. If something were in the road, hed move it.Earlene Mason of Huntington said she met Allred six years ago while she worked as a mini-mart cashier. She said his family attends a Baptist church in Castle Dale. He likes to joke around, she said. Hes always smiling.Marcey Wilson, a neighbor of Phillips in Orangeville, said her husband, who works at the mine, trained Phillips three weeks ago. He was a sweet, sweet guy, Wilson said.In high school, he was just a skinny little kid and always had those baggy jeans on, Emery High School secretary Paula Gordon said. In his yearbook photos, his head is shaved.Hernandez was identified by the Mexican newspaper El Universal, which said he was hired by the mine about two months ago. Relatives in Utah told an AP reporter they did not want to be interviewed.Associated Press writers Pauline Arrillaga, Brock Vergakis and Garance Burke contributed to this report.

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