Camera Yields No Images of Utah Miners

By Sonya Geis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 11 -- Rescue workers hoping to glimpse six trapped Utah coal miners were disappointed Saturday when a camera lowered through a hole drilled in a mountainside became too dirty to show useful pictures.

Rescuers also banged on the drills when they reached the mine, to signal to the miners. Coal miners are taught to bang metal to show they are alive. No sounds were heard.

The rescuers had dropped the camera through a nine-inch-wide hole bored through more than 1,800 feet of rock. The camera showed vertical pictures, so the rescue workers could see they had penetrated the mine's ceiling. A 5 1/2 -foot air pocket lies beneath the ceiling, and two feet of coal mixed with water lies on the mine's floor, officials said.

But the camera was too covered in dirt to give any horizontal pictures, which might show the miners. Rescuers removed the camera and planned to line the hole with steel before lowering the camera again.

"We found survivable space," Richard E. Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said at a news conference. He called the air pocket "somewhat encouraging."

It was the second time in two days that a hole drilled into the mine gave no evidence that the miners were alive. On Friday, a microphone dropped through a smaller hole nearby recorded no sounds of life. Air samples showed that there was not enough oxygen to sustain life.

The men have been trapped since early Monday, when the Crandall Canyon mine, near Huntington, Utah, collapsed.

The miners' families "have been remarkably strong," Stickler said. "We've prayed with them, we've cried with them. But in the end, we haven't been able to give them a lot of positive information."

["I think with so much time passing, we are losing hope," Tomas Hernandez, the uncle of miner Luis Hernandez, told the Associated Press. Hernandez added, though, that his nephew's wife was clinging to hers. "As a wife, she has to have hope."]

Meanwhile, more than 100 miners are digging through rubble in the mine's corridors to reach the men.

That work is very slow, said Robert E. Murray, whose company, Murray Energy, owns part of the Crandall Canyon mine. "I'm very disappointed at its pace," he said.

The mine continues to shift and fall around the rescuers. It could be four or five days before they reach the cavern where the trapped men are believed to be, he said.

Engineers are also deciding whether there would be any use in drilling a third hole from the surface, Stickler said.

The rescue effort has been far more complicated than those in other recent mine disasters, Stickler said.

When nine miners were trapped in the Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania in 2002, "we had a lot to our advantage" to rescue them, Stickler said. The miners, who were all rescued, were trapped 300 feet below the surface, one-sixth as far as the Utah miners. The surface above them was a flat pasture near a paved road. At Huntington, the miners are under a steep mountain. Rescuers had to build a road through wild land to bring in the drills used to penetrate the mine.

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