1 of 4
Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Robert Murray, right, the president of Murray Energy, which owns the Crandall Canyon Mine, speaks about efforts to find the miners. He urged people to "pray, pray, pray." Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., left, said no expense will be spared in the rescue.

HUNTINGTON, Emery County — It could be days before rescuers are able to reach six miners trapped 1,500 feet underground in a collapsed mine shaft.

Getting to the men has been a difficult, round-the-clock operation, with a lot of setbacks.

Rescuers have encountered large amounts of debris, much more than anticipated. In the mine shafts, some debris continued to fall, risking the safety of workers trying to reach the trapped miners.

One attempt did not work as mine officials had hoped Monday.

"What I wanted to report was this worked, that we'd gotten to them," said Robert Murray, the president of Murray Energy, which owns the mine.

There has been no contact with the miners. The men are believed to have oxygen and water that could last them for days, but authorities admit they do not know if the men are alive or dead.

Rescuers have been working frantically to free the trapped miners. Crews are trying four different ways to get to the trapped miners, including drilling from inside and outside the mine and through a mountain. A specialized drill is expected to be brought in this morning to try another rescue attempt.

The men were among 10 people working in the coal mine Monday when it collapsed. They were about eight hours into a 12-hour shift when the area collapsed.

Four workers were able to evacuate safely, but the other six were trapped.

"They know where they're at in the mine," Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guyman said. "It's just a matter of getting to them."

Heavy equipment is being used in attempts to reach the men. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is coordinating the search efforts.

"The area where the miners are believed to have been working is about four miles from the mine entrance," MSHA spokesman Dirk Fillpot said.

'It happens in mines'

Mining operations at Crandall Canyon have ceased, and employees are focused on rescue efforts. Miners showed up for their shifts Monday night dressed in their work clothes, sturdy shoes and carrying lunch pails and coolers.

Ryan Powell, a miner from East Carbon, sat in the back of a pickup with his co-workers ready to start a shift of rescuing.

"There's nothing you can do about it," he said of the collapse. "It happens in mines."

Buddy Mills has worked for 2 1/2 years at the Crandall Canyon Mine. He took the job because it pays well. He said they have been trained frequently on safety.

"The first thing to do (in a collapse) is to make sure you're OK, then try to find somebody else," he said. "Staying as a group is a big thing."

The area where the trapped miners are located is believed to have oxygen and water. They also had breathing apparatus, which had about an hour's worth of oxygen. Other apparatus are stashed throughout the mine, said Doug Johnson, the director of corporate services for UtahAmerican Energy, which manages the Crandall Canyon Mine.

An earthquake?

The collapse inside the Crandall Canyon Mine was so powerful, authorities initially thought it was an earthquake.

An event measuring 3.9 on the Richter scale struck about 16 miles west of here at 2:48 a.m. Monday. Guyman said the University of Utah Seismograph Stations notified emergency dispatchers of the event, inquiring if it was an earthquake. A short time later, Emery County sheriff's dispatchers were notified of the mine collapse.

"We reported that the earthquake was in the Huntington Canyon area of the Wasatch Plateau, and it was apparent to us that the epicenter was in the vicinity of the Crandall Canyon Mine," said Walter Arabasz, the director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

Murray dismissed reports that the mining could have caused a seismic event. He pointed to a map showing the epicenter about a mile from the trapped miners. Authorities said the event was at the same depth as where the men were working, in an old, sealed-off, mined-out portion of the mine.

The 3.9 magnitude shock was the only seismic event recorded by the seismograph stations, Arabasz said, meaning their monitors did not pick up other signatures associated with an earthquake.

"What I can say at this point is, again, the seismic recordings we observed are more consistent with a collapse-type event in a mine rather than with an earthquake," he said.

Pledged support

Federal and state officials have pledged to do whatever it takes to rescue the miners.

On Monday, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. flew from a meeting on wildfires in Idaho to Huntington to meet with the families of the trapped miners.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families," he said. "I'm confident that every expense is being made in order to do this right and no stone is left unturned."

Murray, who worked as a coal miner and later founded his own mining company, urged people to "pray, pray, pray" for the trapped miners.

Around the community of Huntington, the mood was tense as everyone waited and hoped for good news.

The families of the miners were being kept in seclusion, briefed by mine officials on the latest progress. In this small town, many miners know those trapped. Authorities refused to release details about the men, describing them as ranging in age from 20 to 40 years old. Four are Hispanic, two are Caucasian.

"They're people just like everybody," said one miner, who asked the Deseret Morning News not to use his name. "Real good, hardworking men."

Safety record

The mine is part of UtahAmerican Energy's Genwal complex. Its parent company is Ohio-based Murray Energy, which Murray said is about the fourth or fifth largest mining company in the country.

The company operates 11 mines throughout the country in Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Utah. There are 700 employees in Utah. The Genwal complex operation is its smallest, with about 71 employees.

The mine has had numerous safety violations since 2005, some of which were deemed by MSHA as "significant." An inspection of the mine last month turned up more violations. (See related story)

In Utah's coal country, the mines are big business. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining said Emery County has four active coal mines. All except one are in Huntington Canyon.

In 2000, two men were killed and eight others injured in an explosion at the Willow Creek Mine near Price. That mine has not reopened.

In 1984, the Wilberg Mine fire killed 27 people. In 1924, an explosion at the Castle Gate Mine killed 172 people. Utah's biggest mining tragedy was the 1900 Scofield mine disaster, claiming 200 lives.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com; sisraelsen@desnews.com; bau@desnews.com