WASHINGTON Families of miners lost in the Crandall Canyon mine accident blamed mine operator Bob Murray and the Mine Safety and Health Administration for poor treatment during the rescue effort and listed numerous questions that still remain unanswered before a House panel today.
Members of the House Education and Labor Committee faced framed photos of those killed in the August mine accident placed on the witness table as family members testified, at least one through tears, about the lack of respect they were showed in the aftermath of the accident. They also complained about the dangerous conditions inside the mine and questioned why MSHA allowed certain actions to happen in the first place.
"The past two months have been like a roller-coaster for all of us," said Michael Marasco, son-in-law of Kerry Allred, who was trapped in the collapse, and like the others, not recovered. "From day one we have been let down by Mr. Murray and by MSHA."
An Aug. 6 collapse trapped six miners inside the Crandall Canyon Mine and a collapse 10 days later killed three rescuers while injuring others.
Marasco said that Murray told them right after the accident "that we could trust God and in him and he would stop at nothing to find our loved-ones, dead or alive."
"Everyday went by where we were thinking maybe today, but we were just continually let down," he said.
Marasco said the families' treatment by Murray and MSHA was "unbelievable" and Murray even yelled at them when they would ask questions.
"I felt that we were not treated with the respect we should have been given," Marasco said.
Sheila Phillips, mother of miner Brandon Phillips who was trapped in the mine, said Murray told the families the road leading up to the drill could not support more than one rig at a time.
"He also said that he could drill a thousand holes and it would not make a difference," said Phillips. Phillips said drilling that many holes could have led to finding her son.
Phillips said she didn't go to many of the meetings Murray held for the families "because I couldn't stand to listen to the man."
Wendy Black, wife of mine Dale "Bird" Black, who was killed during the rescue effort when another collapse took place 10 days later, said the whole ordeal "could have been prevented from the beginning."
"It would have taken just one MSHA official or one official from the company doing his job to have saved my husband's life," Black said.
Black, like the others who testified, wanted to know who was in charge of the rescue, who approved the mining plan, and "who in their right mind would send rescuers underground while the mine was still bouncing, then drill from the top when they had no idea what this would do to the stability of the mine, while the miners were underground mining."
Black said her husband told her a day before the initial collapse there were "big bounces" at the mine and he was getting worried about the conditions there.
Kristen Kimber, wife of Brandon Kimber, another miner killed in the accident, did not testify outright, but in response to questions by the House members said: "I feel there was a lot this mountain was telling people, that this was not right, and nobody listened."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who sits on the committee, said the families' presence gives a real face to the individuals.
"You have raised questions that need answers," Bishop said.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who does not sit on the committee but received special permission to participate in the hearing, said he hoped their questions would eventually be answered.Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. will also testify before the committee today.