YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

All 9 Rescued From Mine

Success: One suffers chest pain and four others are treated for hypothermia. After 72 hours of anxiety, a small town rejoices.


QUECREEK, Pa. — All nine coal miners found alive Saturday were safely pulled one by one out of a dark and flooded chamber early this morning, ending three agonizing days of a heroic rescue effort.

The men were lifted from a collapsed mine 240 feet underground after rescuers carefully drilled through the ceiling of the cramped 4-foot-high chamber where they had been trapped since Wednesday.

"They're all down there," yelled one mud-covered rescuer seconds after hearing from the miners. "Every one of them."

Just before 1 a.m. EDT today, the first miner, Randy Fogle, was lifted in a bright yellow metal capsule, prompting exuberant whistles and claps from workers and well-wishers. His face was covered in coal dust, and he was drenched. Fogle, who was complaining of chest pain, was carried out on a stretcher and airlifted to a nearby hospital.

The rest of the miners were pulled out in 15-minute intervals and quickly assessed by doctors. At least four were sent to hospitals, where they were expected to be treated for hypothermia and minor injuries. Gov. Mark Schweiker said all the men were in "pretty good shape."

The rescue followed a long and frustrating effort that slammed to a halt several times. While workers bored through the earth with massive drills, workers tried to protect the men from lethal hypothermia by pumping heated air into the subterranean cavern.

The miners' first words were, "There's nine men ready to get the hell out of here. We need some chew," according to Ron Svonavec, one of the workers.

As engineers and rescuers wearing hard hats embraced and patted each other on the back, the governor rushed away from the rescue site to share the good news with the miners' families at a nearby firehouse.

"They are eager to come up, I'm happy and delighted to report," Schweiker told reporters, smiling broadly. "We're there, we just got to bring them up."

When the giant drill broke through the ceiling of the chamber about 10:15 p.m. EDT Saturday, the drill operator heard five taps. Workers shut everything down and listened for more. But all was silent, so they lowered a microphone and headphones through the air pipe and had a brief conversation with the miners.

Workers then began the final stage of the rescue effort, withdrawing the giant drill bit and then sending down the metal capsule to lift the miners out. Awaiting the men were 10 ambulances and 18 helicopters ready to rush them to hospitals.

The last steps to pull the men through the 30-inch-wide unlined shaft were still risky, but the rescuers were confident to the end.

"We're going to get them up," said John Weir, owner of Black Wolf Coal Co. "We're going to get them in the arms of their loved ones and we're going to win."

The miners were trapped about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday after they accidentally breached the wall of a flooded and abandoned mine. They were able to warn a second crew, which escaped before the remaining miners were hit with 50 million gallons of contaminated 55-degree water.

Doug Custer, one of the last miners who escaped, cracked a huge smile when he received official word that his colleagues were alive. "You can't imagine what I'm feeling," he said. "They're a great bunch of guys in there."

He sighed and said, "Ah, man, what a relief, huh? It don't get better than this."Late Saturday night, drilling rigs towered over what just days before was a bucolic setting where cows grazed. A graveyard and a small church sat just up the hill from the rescue site. Dozens of engineers, mining company workers and volunteers worked doggedly to save the miners.

Right up until they found the miners alive, all attention was focused on the rig called "Rescue One," a four-story, beige drill with an oversized bit that was on the verge of reaching the miners. As night fell Saturday, bright lights, like those used to illuminate a football field, shined on the drill and the workers. An American flag waved from the top of another drill, which stood silent.

The suspense over the fate of the trapped miners had shaken everyone in this close-knit community, where coal mining has been a way of life for several generations. Rescuers and volunteers celebrated Saturday night after hearing word of their safety. In the Sipesville firehouse, where family members held vigil for three days, there were hugs and tears.

"The building about fell down when they started screaming," said Mike Brant, president of the Sipesville volunteer fire department, who spoke to his wife at the fire hall.

Brant, who had been working at the rescue site since Wednesday night, said "This feels absolutely great. It's been kind of depressing not hearing them for two days."

No sounds had been heard from the miners since midday Thursday. That was when there was a succession of nine taps on a metal pipe signaling that there were nine survivors underground.

On Friday and Saturday, the vibration and churning of the massive drills boring through granite and limestone drowned out any other noises.

Los Angeles Times Articles