HUNTINGTON CANYON Every miner has a nickname such as "Moose," "Flash" or "Mud Flap" and Dale Ray Black's nickname was "Bird."
"It's not always known how they came by that name, but they came by their names honestly," friend and former boss Allen Childs said. "That's why we referred to Dale Black as 'Bird.'"
Some people didn't even know of Black's real name until Aug. 16 when he was killed while attempting to rescue six trapped colleagues in Crandall Canyon Mine.
On Tuesday, at least 500 family members and friends gathered for his funeral at Little Bear Creek Campground in Huntington Canyon, just a few miles from the mine.
Black, 48, died with rescuers Brandon Kimber and Gary Jensen when a seismic "bump" in the mine released coal on them. They were trying to reach miners Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez, who became trapped and haven't been heard from since an Aug. 6 mine collapse.
Black's brother-in-law, the Rev. Carl Sitterud, likened Black's death to the death of Jesus Christ. He recalled the 15th chapter of the Book of John: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
"I do believe that is what occurred," the Rev. Sitterud said. "The ultimate sacrifice ... was given by Dale and others, that they lay down their lives for their friends. That is a very, very high compliment."
People laughed as much as they cried as they remembered Black, frequently recalling how they responded to him by saying, "That's Dale being Dale" or "That's Bird being Bird."
Black loved fishing, golfing, camping, hunting, riding all-terrain vehicles, boating and cold beer.
Black, whose work involved operating an underground machine that pulls coal from the mountain's interior, believed in hard work but he also had a sense of humor.
His family was his first priority.
"I have done more with my dad in the past 23 years than most people get to do in a lifetime," daughter Ashley Pruitt said.
comments on this story
In addition to his daughter, Black is survived by his wife, Wendy, and a son, Corey. His wife kissed the coffin at Huntington City Cemetery.
"Life is too short to be mad at people," Pruitt said. "This is something I've heard countless times in my life. Please take this lesson from my dad."
"When we think of Dale Ray Black, images of unselfishness and ultimately the highest price of all, a sacrifice of life, was given to save his friends," the Rev. Sitterud said. "And the last action of Dale Ray Black's life earned him a new name, a name of hero."