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Drill breaks through to mine pocket

A microphone lowered into the hole reveals no sound, officials say. 'I wouldn't look at it as good or bad news,' says an executive. 'The work is not done.'

August 10, 2007|Ashley Powers and Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writers

HUNTINGTON, UTAH — A drill burrowing deep into the earth reached a pocket Thursday night where six miners were believed to be trapped by a cave-in, and a microphone was lowered into the hole, but no sound was heard, officials said early today.

A camera was also to be lowered in, officials said. It is unknown whether the miners are alive.

"I wouldn't look at it as good or bad news," said Robert E. Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., which owns the mine. "The work is not done."

The slow-motion rescue had been stalled by seismic activity, leaving relatives of the trapped miners, and the entire community, suspended in emotional limbo since the Crandall Canyon Mine collapsed early Monday.

"I wonder how they're doing," said Victor Pacheco Sr., 70, a former miner who attended a special Mass for the men Thursday.

"Are they gasping for air? A lot of the time, if a coal miner is trapped, they'll take a pencil and write notes to their families . . . they'll write on coal and scrape rock on rock, whatever it takes. And I wonder if that's what they're doing. . . . I think some hope is fading here, and I wonder if their hope is fading too."

Federal mine officials and executives with Murray Energy tried to remain upbeat Thursday. Allyn C. Davis of the Mine Health and Safety Administration told reporters he was "very hopeful" about the progress.

Rob Moore, a vice president with Murray Energy, said a motor had broken on the drill but was swiftly replaced.

Officials said a C-170 cargo plane was flying to Salt Lake City to deliver state-of-the-art video equipment that they hoped to use to communicate with the miners.

Murray has said he is optimistic about the miners' chances for survival because the roof in other parts of the mine appears largely intact.

After the 2-inch hole is drilled -- provided that it has reached the correct chasm and that survivors are found -- it will be joined by an 8-inch hole that will enable rescuers to drop food and water to the miners.

Then workers will dig through the mine debris to extract the miners, a process that could take more than a week.

The wait continued to take a toll on this close-knit community. Though none of the miners' identities has been officially released -- and the identities of three have yet to be confirmed by family members -- many in the area know them well.

They include 30-year mining veteran Kerry Allred, 58, a boisterous, wiry redhead nicknamed "Flash" who is known for his impersonations of "The Simpsons" character Mr. Burns.

"He was just a happy guy," said Debbie Allred, 34, a cousin by marriage.

"Every time you'd see him driving down the street he'd press his face against the driver's window and wave. If you didn't wave back, he'd follow you. You'd learn to wave at him."

Another veteran trapped is Don Erickson, 50, whom friends described as an even-keel father of three. Erickson also has worked at an auto shop and driven a truck retrieving wrecked cars.

"I can see Don right now taking charge and comforting the guys," said Rick Collins, who worked with Erickson for 13 years at Helper Auto. "If I was in the mine right now, Don would be the guy I'd want with me."

Manuel Sanchez is a father of four with two brothers who are also miners.

His nephew Julio Sanchez said Manuel swore he'd never leave the mines. "That's all he wanted to do," Julio said.

Carlos Payan came from Sinaloa, Mexico, to work in the coal mines. Friends said that he worked nonstop and that his version of relaxation was taking a few minutes to buy a soda. He was due to return to Mexico in the coming weeks. Now his parents are in Huntington.

Family friend Alejandra Valdez, 37, said Payan's mother went straight into her son's room, hugged his empty clothes and would not leave.


Powers reported from Huntington and Riccardi from Denver.

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