Most Utahns remember well the initial press conferences following the collapse at Crandall Canyon Mine that trapped six miners last August. Mine co-owner Robert Murray was clearly distressed by the events. He blamed a seismic event for the collapse. Perhaps, at the time, he believed that was true. Perhaps he was attempting to minimize the mining company's liability for these events. Only he knows for certain.
A new report by University of Utah seismologists says the collapse began near where six miners were working, causing a seismic event that resulted in their deaths. The collapse that registered as a 3.9 magnitude shock occurred so quickly there was likely no chance for escape. The event quickly grew into a 50-acre cave-in.
This study should end speculation about the cause of the event, which also resulted in the deaths of three rescuers 10 days later. It is hoped that this new report gives loved ones of the victims some solace. It also should be used to help prevent future cave-ins in deep mountain coal mines.
University seismologists released the report to the public prior to its publication in the scientific journal Seismological Research Letters so that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration would have time to inform the victims' families about the university's findings. This was commendable, considering the high degree of public interest in these events.
Meanwhile, MSHA's investigation of the events at Crandall Canyon is ongoing.
The facts of those events are coming together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. In time, the picture will be complete and the people or factors that played a role in this tragedy can be held to account. It is understood, though, the regulatory and judicial wheels cannot turn fast enough for friends and family members who perished or for those who died or were injured attempting to rescue the miners.
Over time, the devastating grief will fade but the victims' families likely never will have all of their questions answered. Credit the university seismologists for this new information, as well as their humanity in appreciating that these findings transcend the interpretation of seismic data. They're about husbands, fathers and sons who were killed in a coal mine collapse or died attempting to rescue them, and about doing all possible through regulation and practice to prevent this from happening in the future.