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Camera sees no signs of life in Utah coal mine

The images do show 'survivable space' in the cavity where six men are believed to be trapped.

August 12, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

huntington, utah -- The drawn-out attempt to rescue six miners trapped 1,800 feet underground suffered yet another setback Saturday when a second hole was bored into the cavity where the miners were believed to be trapped, only to find no sign of life.

At a midday briefing, officials said they turned off all drilling equipment and lighting while they attempted to communicate with the miners by pounding repeatedly on the drill that burrowed the 8-inch-wide hole. They listened for a response from below but were met with silence. "It was heartbreaking," said Mike Glasson of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.

But there was some encouraging news: A camera dropped down the shaft found 5 1/2 feet of space in the cavity and potable water on the floor -- signs that miners could survive. "There is survivable space," said Assistant Labor Secretary Richard E. Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Down a narrower hole drilled 130 feet away Friday, rescue workers found insufficient oxygen to support life in that area. They had not tested for oxygen in the second, newly drilled region.

In hopes of collecting more information, officials planned to drop down the shaft late Saturday a second camera that can horizontally scan the area up to 100 feet. The next step was to dig laterally to the area where the miners may be -- a process that could take several days. Officials said they were considering other attempts to approach the area, such as additional drilling.

"I'm very discouraged at our pace," said Robert E. Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., which owns the mine. He stressed that 139 rescue workers were digging as fast as they could, but persistent seismic risk kept them only 650 feet from where they began digging last week. They needed to dig about 1,400 feet farther to reach the area where the miners had been working.

Officials said the miners' families were struggling with the lack of information. "As you can imagine," Murray said, "as the days go on, their grief heightens."

The six miners were trapped when a portion of Crandall Canyon Mine, about 140 miles south of Salt Lake City, collapsed early Monday. Seismologists registered a 3.9-magnitude tremor that they said was the implosion of the mine; Murray has maintained that it was a quake that brought down the mine.

There has been no signal from the miners that they are still alive. Tomas Hernandez, uncle of trapped miner Luis Hernandez, 23, told the Associated Press: "With so much time passing, we are losing hope."

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nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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