Trapped miners die
January 6, 2006

Trapped miners die

Initial reports indicated 12 had survived. Grief and anger replaced jubilation early Wednesday as mine officials announced that, despite earlier reports, only one of 13 trapped miners had survived a West Virginia mining accident.

Late Tuesday, word spread among family members that 12 miners had been found alive at the Sago Mine. Celebrations erupted as church bells rang out.{{more}}

Hours later, however, some miners’ loved ones — some angry, others silently dejected — began leaving the community church that had been their sanctuary since the ordeal began Monday morning.

What they had to say was unbelievable in light of the earlier news of a “miracle” in the mine.

The few who would talk to the gathered media said mining officials had told them only one of the miners had survived. Mining company officials then confirmed it at a news conference.

Ben Hatfield, the CEO of International Coal Group, which owns the Sago Mine, called it the “worst day of my life.”

Hatfield said “miscommunication” between rescue crews and the command center had caused the earlier erroneous reports that 12 miners had survived.

In all, 12 miners died, including a man whose body was found closer to the mine entrance Tuesday evening. The sole survivor, Randy McCloy Jr., was in critical condition and being transported Wednesday to West Virginia University Hospital in Morgantown after being stabilized at nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“This is certainly not the outcome that we had hoped for and prayed for,” said Hatfield. “There was a great deal of confusion between the rescue teams … the information got misinterpreted or miscommunicated.”

“They told us they didn’t have good news,” said one man who was at the briefing. “Everybody is stunned and sick to our stomachs. We feel like we’ve been lied to, we’ve been lied to all along … This is probably the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to me in my lifetime”

Miners were alive after accident

Hatfield said it was apparent that the miners, who were found some 13,000 feet underground, remained alive for a period of time following the explosion. They had built a “rough barricade structure,” he said, and had donned their self-contained breathing apparatuses. The apparatuses held one hour of oxygen; Hatfield said he had no way of knowing how long the miners were alive.

‘Some wrong communications’

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin — who flashed a thumbs-up on the steps of the church and said, “believe in miracles,” after hearing the initial report that the 12 were alive — called the situation “heart-wrenching.”

He said he was in another room of the church with some family members when “we heard families in a euphoric state, and all the shouting and screaming and joyfulness.” He asked what was happening, he said, and was told, “They found them. They’re alive.”

It was about 20 minutes later, he said, when he also became aware of “some wrong communications.” The delay in informing relatives, he said, came because officials were trying to get accurate information instead of adding to the confusion. He said he understood the family’s pain, as his own uncle died in a 1968 mine accident.

“To put blame on anybody — it’s the wrong time, the wrong place,” Manchin said. “Everybody has worked so hard. The rescue teams have worked around the clock. They’ve come from all over the country.”

The U.S. Department of Labor, in a statement, confirmed that 12 miners had died and one survived, noting, “This is the first federal confirmation of those numbers. At no time were we contacted to confirm numbers, and as to earlier reports, we have no knowledge as to how those numbers were reported.” (CNN)