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Camera fails to locate trapped miners

A robotic device will be lowered into another hole at the Utah site.

August 31, 2007|From the Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A video camera that was lowered down a seventh hole Thursday in search of six coal miners trapped inside a mountain found only a few feet of clear space and piles of rubble and mud, federal officials said.

The hole started plugging up, making it impossible for technicians to get a separate robotic camera 1,856 feet down into the Crandall Canyon Mine to look for signs of the men, said Rich Kulczewski, a spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

It's not known whether the six men survived the Aug. 6 collapse. Three rescuers trying to tunnel to the men died Aug. 16 after another collapse.

The video camera found 2 1/2 feet of clear space and 7 feet of rubble and mud, officials said. Another hole drilled earlier also was being tried, but mud and rubble were also hampering it, Kulczewski said.

"That was a disappointment. There's no doubt about it," he said at a news conference in Huntington.

If the 8-inch-wide robotic camera can go down one of the holes only a fraction wider, it could maneuver as far as 1,000 feet into the mine.

After crews broke through the seventh hole about 4:15 a.m. Thursday, they rapped on the drill to try to signal the miners. There was no response.

A decision was made Thursday evening to lower the robotic camera into a hole drilled Aug. 18 -- despite an earlier determination that there was a high risk that the camera could be lost in the effort -- Kulczewski said. There was no estimate of how long that would take.

"We haven't given up, but we're running out of possibilities," Kulczewski said.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said an independent review would be conducted of the mining agency's handling of the mine disaster. Separately, the mining agency announced its own investigation, led by Richard Gates. He headed the 2006 review of the Sago mine tragedy in West Virginia, where 12 people died. Gates has been with the agency for 19 years and is a district manager in Alabama.

The mining agency's investigation "will fully examine all available evidence to find the cause of the ground failure at Crandall Canyon Mine and any violations of safety and health standards," agency chief Richard E. Stickler said in a statement.

Stickler said the mining agency's investigation would involve people with no ties to its Western District, which oversees safety at the mine 120 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Hours after Stickler's announcement, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said an independent team of mine safety experts would review the agency's handling of the Utah accident. The agency is an arm of the Labor Department.

The review will look at the mining agency's actions before the collapse and during the rescue operations. Its tasks will include studying mine plans and inspection records, as well as interviews with employees of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The United Mine Workers of America was critical of the Labor Department's announcement. "A truly independent investigation would be done by people who are from outside the agency with no ties to MSHA or its employees," President Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement.

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