1 of 4
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Darrell Dean Plateo prays at the beginning of a benefit concert for the miners given by the Huntington Lions Club on Friday, the day after three rescue workers were killed and six injured. The underground rescue effort has been halted indefinitely.

HUNTINGTON — Using their bare hands, miners dug through as much as five feet of coal Thursday in a frantic effort to free their buried colleagues.

But it was not enough to save miners Dale Black and Brandon Kimber or mine safety inspector Gary Jensen. Those three men were killed, and six others were injured when a mountain "bump" blew out a 60-foot-long section of coal from the walls, spraying them with rock and debris. The men were part of the rescue effort to reach six miners still trapped inside a collapsed part of the Crandall Canyon Mine.

"These men died as heroes," Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Friday.

The underground rescue attempts have now been halted indefinitely, and an investigation into the deaths is under way.

"We put in the maximum protections we could, and it wasn't enough," said Kevin Stricklin, who is over coal mines for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Rescuers aren't sure what to do next.

More seismic activity already has been detected in and around the Crandall Canyon Mine, and authorities are unsure when it will be safe to go back underground. But a breakthrough could come today when another hole being drilled through a mountain is expected to break through into a cavern to which the trapped miners may have fled.

"We have suffered a setback," said Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., which owns the mine. "We have incurred an incredible loss, but this team remains focused on the task at hand. That's the rescue of the miners that have been trapped since Aug. 6."

The victims

The rescuers were trying to reach Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez, who have been nearly 1,900 feet underground for 13 days.

Miners digging out debris from inside one of the tunnels had just broken through a new section, Stricklin said, when the "bump" hit about 6:30 p.m. Thursday, blowing out from the mine's ribs and burying the nine people in debris.

"The rock props cleared everything in its path," he said. "There were personnel there. They were thrown up against the left rib."

Others raced into the mine to dig out their colleagues. Mine owner Bob Murray was one of them, company officials said Friday. Getting the victims out of the mine took some time.

"I'd say by the time we got everybody outside it was probably about an hour," Stricklin said. "That's counting the travel time that they had with the vehicles to get everybody out."

An ambulance and paramedics have been stationed at the mine since Aug. 6, but a disaster of this size brought in a half-dozen. Two medical helicopters also were flown in to take the victims to hospitals, where two of the men died. One man was dead on the scene.

"I'm sure they did everything they could underground as far as CPR," Stricklin said. "Apparently, when the medical folks looked at him when he came outside, they decided that he should not be life-flighted."

One of the men killed, Dale Black, 49, is a cousin of trapped miner Allred.

"He was very passionate about getting in to save those miners. He only got two days off since they were trapped, and he went off and worked one of them," said Kent Wilson, a friend of Black's.

Kimber, 29, was father of a 5-year-old daughter and twin boys, age 4. He worked underground in mines for 3 1/2 years.

"He was just a wonderful man. He was just a very, very unselfish man. If you'd ask him for a shirt, he'd offer the one off his back and three more from his closet," said Kristen Kimber, his ex-wife, who remained friends with him after their divorce.

Jensen, 53, was an MSHA employee based in Price. On Friday, the doors to the MSHA office there were locked. A man inside the building told the Deseret Morning News the office could not comment about Jensen.

Castleview Hospital released three of the survivors early Friday morning. One of the rescuers remains hospitalized in fair condition. Another, whom MSHA officials said is a mine inspector, underwent surgery on Friday for his injuries.

Huntsman visited with the family of another injured miner at a Provo hospital. That man is listed in serious condition with facial fractures, a broken leg and an internal head injury.

Sharing pain

The families of the trapped miners continue to hold on to hope for a rescue. On Friday, they met with federal authorities, mine safety officials and politicians who discussed the latest plan to keep the rescue effort going despite the deaths of the rescuers.

Utah Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi characterized the meeting as "somber, with some conviction that the mission continue to find the original six."

Father Donald Hope, the pastor of the Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish in Price, relayed a message from some of the families on Friday.

"They are saddened deeply about the deaths and injuries sustained by the rescue workers last night, and they share in the pain of those miners' families," he said.

Father Hope met with several of the family members and spoke to others on the telephone. More than anything else, he said, friends and family members of the men don't want the tragedy to sway the faith of those in Utah, and around the world, who have been holding out hope for the men's rescue.

"They've said a number of times they hope that others who are praying for them don't begin to lose faith because of this disaster," Hope said.

Of the families he has spoken to, Hope said none have indicated what they believe to be the best course of action going forward.

"I think they're still taking in what happened last night," he said. "They're going to trust the best judgment of the experts of how they proceed from here."

After receiving humanitarian visas, the Mexican consulate in Salt Lake City said trapped miner Luis Hernandez's brothers, Ernesto and Carlos, arrived in Huntington on Friday. One of Carlos Payan's brothers is also expected to arrive soon. Manuel Sanchez's family has not requested any visas yet.

The families are in a state of confusion as to what comes next, Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon told the Deseret Morning News.

"There's a lot of wondering if they'll ever see their loved one again," he said Friday. "Everything has to cease eventually. Looking at 'em you can see in their faces the concern."

In the mining towns of Huntington and Price, people were still in shock over the deaths of the rescuers.

"This is a tragedy on top of a tragedy," said Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price.

Breakthrough?

Rescuers hope today to be able to drill through into a cavern where the six miners are trapped. Another 8 5/8-inch hole being drilled into the mountain is expected to punch through sometime this afternoon, MSHA officials said.

The progress was slowed on Friday because of downpours from thunderstorms that moved over Huntington Canyon. It is the fourth hole to be drilled in the mountain above the mine. The others have yielded no sign of the men, alive or dead.

If the latest hole is able to detect signs of life from the six miners trapped underground, MSHA is making plans to drill a hole big enough to drop rescue capsules — cages big enough to hold a person — inside the hole and bring the men out through the mountain — a distance of nearly 2,000 feet.

The fourth hole was being drilled after geophones that measure vibrations picked up five minutes of "noise" on Wednesday.

Rescuers are downplaying the noise, which was detected when a drill punched a third hole into the cavern. Officials said it could have been animals, rocks falling or even thunder.

Yet they concede the noise was significant enough that they moved the fourth drill site to the site of the origination of the noise. The noise registered as graphs on two geophones shortly after rescuers tried to signal the trapped miners. No noise has been detected since, officials said.

To get back underground, MSHA said it will begin assembling a team of experts today to look at what can be done. Federal authorities thought they had taken steps to protect rescuers working underground, placing beams and chainlink fence inside the tunnels.

"Obviously, it was not adequate," assistant U.S. Labor Secretary Richard Stickler told reporters Friday.

It is unknown when mine officials will be able to resume underground rescue efforts. It depends on the seismic conditions.

"We don't want to close the door and say no one can ever go in underground," Stricklin said. "But we need to suspend it until we're confident that we won't have another situation like we did."

Investigations

Huntsman said the rescue effort has gone from a tragedy to a catastrophe, suggesting that rescue efforts should cease until workers' safety could be guaranteed.

"Let us ensure that we have no more injuries," he said. "We have suffered enough as a state."

In an interview with the Deseret Morning News on Friday, Huntsman said he plans to put together a panel for the state to conduct its own investigation into the mine disaster to determine if Utah should have more control over mine safety. It is also likely that congressional hearings will be held.

"I just hope people don't try to politicize this here," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, leaving a meeting with MSHA officials. "Unfortunately, we have people back in Washington who do that."

Late Friday afternoon, President Bush phoned Huntsman, the second time they have spoken since the Aug. 6 collapse.

"President Bush called Gov. Huntsman to express his sympathies to the family members affected by (Thursday's) mine rescue accident and also to those families still waiting to hear about their loved ones still trapped in the mine," Huntsman spokeswoman Jami Palmer said.

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations recorded two more instances of seismic activity near the Crandall Canyon Mine on Friday. The first one registered 1.2 on the Richter scale at 1:12 a.m. The second one hit at 6:12 a.m., registering 0.9 in magnitude.

Thursday's deadly bump was 1.6 in magnitude and extremely shallow in the ground. The seismic wave forms are consistent with downward motion, just like the original 3.9 magnitude collapse on Aug. 6. A natural earthquake does not have the downward motion signature, scientists say.

25 comments on this story

According to the the U., 24 seismic "after-events" had been recorded within about two miles of the mine as of Friday morning. Twelve of those were within two days of the original collapse.

"These events seem to be related to the ongoing settling of the rock mass following the main collapse on Aug. 6," said Relu Burlacu, a network manager for the U. Seismograph Stations.

Reviewing a year's worth of seismic events has found less than 2 percent of the "quakes" in Utah's coal country are natural earthquakes. The other 98 percent appear to be mining-induced.

Mine owner Bob Murray has disagreed with seismologists over what caused the Aug. 6 mine collapse. He insists it was an earthquake, yet scientists disagree and say it was the mine collapse that was the seismic event.


Contributing: Lois Collins; Lisa Riley-Roche; Rebecca Palmer; Angie Welling, Deborah Bulkeley

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com; preavy@desnews.com