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Front Page » August 14, 2007 » Local News » Hope burns bright for trapped miners in Crandall Canyon M...
Published 3,480 days ago

Hope burns bright for trapped miners in Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington Canyon

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The candles spell out the word hope at the candlelight vigil at the rodeo grounds in Huntington on Wednesday evening. They also spell out the number six.

Daily Update

On Monday morning Aug. 6, at 3:57 a.m. a call came into the Emery County Sheriff"s dispatch, that there was trouble at the Crandall Canyon mine in Huntington Canyon. This mine was formerly known as Genwal, and is now owned by UtahAmerican Energy Inc.

The mine experienced a cave-in. It is still not known if the cave in caused the earthquake or if the earthquake caused the cave-in. Rescue attempts began immediately. It was at first believed the miners could be reached by going into a tunnel previously sealed off. This tunnel was closed off with much debris and that option was not further explored because the mine was experiencing bounces-shocks, and MSHA ordered the mine evacuated.

Due to this setback the rescue actions ordered now include drilling two holes from up on top of the mountain. The smaller hole would allow ventilation down to the trapped miners and would also serve as a means of communication with them. A larger hole which would allow food, water and supplies to be lowered to the miners is also being drilled. These are the ongoing attempts at this time. The underground rescue attempts have been resumed.

Mine workers report if the men stayed within the area they were mining, they could still be safe. This is a large area with air and water. If the miners are within this area and used their headlamps sparingly they could still have light and water. Conditions would not be comfortable, but bearable and they could live several days.

All coal miners are taught rescue and survival techniques and what to do in emergency situations within a mine. If all procedures were followed the men have a good chance of still being OK.

Company Pres. Bob Murray has hosted a number of press conferences at the bottom of the mine road where it meets SR-31 in Huntington Canyon. This area has become a zoo of media and representatives from around the world. Many of them say they are here for the duration and will await the outcome of this event. Others say they will come back and forth to keep abreast of the happenings at the mine.

The outcome will continue to be in question for several days. The drilling of the holes will take a considerable amount of time and it is just a waiting game from here on out.

Murray said "I appreciate the interest of America on behalf of these families. I have taken time with the families to keep them informed of the rescue effort. We will be taking a son and a brother of the trapped miners underground to view the conditions there, and they will be able to report back to their families. We have only two concerns at this time, the welfare of the miners and the welfare of the families. We have good news and we are making progress. There are rescue activities on the surface and in the mine. We are drilling a 2.5 inch hole in the area where we know the miners are trapped. We have cautioned all along when you set a drill rig with a helicopter by GPS it can be inaccurate. We may find that we have drilled into coal instead of an open area. We are trying to position a drill hole to intersect the open cavity. The other hole is an 8 5/8 inch hole. This drill rig can drill within a fraction of an inch. It is positioned right on the place above where the miners are located. This mountain has a 23 degree slope. Within the mine, rescue efforts have resumed. The seismic activity has decreased."

Tina Oliver lights the candle of Huntington mayor, Hiliary Gordon as she sits beside her husband, Brent at the candlelight vigil on Wednesday in Huntington.

The mine is using timbers, cables and jacks in an effort to shore up the rescue path. Work is continuing around the clock.

Richard Stickler, assistant secretary of labor, said, "We have been working hand in hand with the mining company. The underground efforts were suspended for a time due to seismic activity, but they have since resumed."

A candlelight vigil was held in Huntington last evening and the community is rallying around the families.

Thurs. Aug. 9 noon

Richard Stickler began the Thursday press conference with an update. He said, "We are working as one team, with one goal. The Emery County Sheriff"s Office, the mine operator, the State of Utah, and MSHA are working with a common goal. The safety of the rescue workers is of the utmost concern.

"The family briefing was held this morning, and it was done by two family members, a son and a brother, of those trapped. Both have experience as miners, they went underground with us yesterday and on the surface. This morning they flew over the drilling site with Mr. Murray. These family members did an effective job reporting to the families. We are doing our best to be responsive to the families. We have been explaining the facts in English and in Spanish.

"We have made significant progress in advancement. We have gone 180 feet on the number one entry. We are at crosscut 120. The crosscuts are 130 feet apart. There has been no significant seismic activity. There is noise in the roof with bumps and rocks breaking above which is typical for a mine in the Rocky Mountains.

"Some of the areas above this mine contain 2,000 feet of cover. Where these miners are located, we originally estimated the cover was 1,500 feet over the miners according to topographical maps. Since then the survey locations for the two holes have been determined that the 2.5 inch hole cover is 1,869 feet. At 8:30 a.m. they had drilled through 1,460 feet. The 8.5 inch hole has a cover of 1,886 feet, and at 8:30 this morning, they were down 355 feet. We have made significant progress and we hope to make similar progress today. Our backup plans include having drill bits and spare drills where they can be accessed immediately.

"We have all the resources here. We are working very hard, and it is slower than originally anticipated. We have timbers and metal props and chain link fence to protect miners from bumps which could cause ribs to blow out. The blockage in the main entry is material which was forced off the walls. At the 120 crosscut, we can see openings on each side. Some have filled to the roof with material from the walls," concluded Stickler.

Congressman Jim Matheson said, "The experts and professionals are handling this situation. We want to make sure they have all the resources here. The community response has been incredible."

John Baza, Division of Oil, Gas and Mining director, said, "Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. is in Huntington with the families. We are hoping this mine rescue occurs quickly and effectively. We are coordinating with the governor and state officials. The Governor is concerned about the families, and he has had staff members there with them. They are providing whatever state resources are available for the families. The Governor provided the helicopter for an overflight of the drilling for Mr. Murray and the two family members. The nation is behind this effort. President Bush called the Governor yesterday and offered his support. The nation is praying for us. Don"t give up hope. Let"s press forward and get these men out."

UtahAmerican Energy owner Bob Murray said, "The recovery of the miners is my responsibility. There are men at the mine who have gone for four days without sleep. The men want to stay and keep working. That"s the kind of support and professionalism they have shown. The miners are determined to get to their brothers.

"The rescue has gone smoothly with MSHA and our company. We have worked through every issue. No mistakes have been made in the recovery. It"s just too slow." stated Murray. He went on to reiterated the progress of the rescue efforts.

"At the rate of drilling We should arrive in six hours, at the cavity. The first drill was positioned by helicopter. There are other ways to steer the drill but it may not come out where we want it to be, and we would have to start over," continued Murray.

Darrell Leonard shows the supports and explains how the rescue operation is taking place.

"The 8.5 inch drill has now completed the installation of the directional motor. This should speed up the drilling, and would reach the cavity by late tomorrow evening. The underground efforts have cleared 128 feet. There are massive amounts of protection involved, but we must do this. We don"t want to injure the rescuers, we can"t allow that. In the initial cave-in, all the equipment was lost. We predict we can move 100 feet a shift. At this rate it will take six-seven days to reach the miners if the rubble extends all the way back to them. Let me emphasize to you, even if we don"t get to them, this doesn"t hurt their welfare because the bore hole will provide a communication system. The focus is on the families."

The equipment is ready to go when they get to the cavity. Sound equipment will be lowered down the bore hole.

Rob Moore, UtahAmerican Inc., said, "The rescue efforts continue to move along. We have backup equipment available on stand-by for drilling. Spare parts are also available. We have people around the clock on the drilling effort. The directional drilling equipment has been hooked up and can more accurately hit the target area. The communication equipment includes three two-inch video cameras. Two are there on site now that have a 36 inch range of vertical viewing only. The third camera is being delivered by the Governors office, and is coming in from California.

"The first device that will be lowered down the bore hole will be the communication device and it will emit a beeping sound. Three thousand feet of cable have been tested and it will work with all three cameras. We will be able to communicate with the miners through this device," stated Moore.

Moore said the miners have been taught to get a roof bolt and beat on a roof bolt which has already been installed in the roof. This noise will travel some distance and attract attention from the rescuers. The miners can still have use of their head lamps and can communicate with those as well. The lights last 12 hours. The temperature in the mine is about 58 degrees. The mine still has not released the names of the miners to protect the privacy of the families.

"The families are amazingly upbeat and all communication is in Spanish and English. The families have expressed their appreciation to the company for keeping the names private," said Murray.

Friday morning:

At the 10 a.m. press conference, Richard Stickler, assistant secretary for MSHA started the press conference with a report on the 8 5/8ths inch drill hole. It is down 1,262 feet at this time. On the underground rescue process the miners have advanced 400 feet in the number one entry. "Those efforts are continuing with hope and faith. The attitude of these workers is just tremendous. We have all the resources you can think of. About 10 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 9, the small drill hole broke through. A microphone was fed down the hole. We monitored the microphone and there was no response from any of the miners. The drilling of the large hole was suspended at this time to listen for the miners. We continued to draw air for analysis and took three samples.

"At 12:10 a.m. there was 20.5 percent oxygen. At 1:15 a.m. it was 20.6 percent oxygen; at 1:25 a.m. there was 20.6 oxygen. The three air analysis confirmed there was a least 20.5 percent oxygen. But, then we saw a change in the air quality readings. We believe the drill hole drifted into the abandoned workings which have been sealed.

"The air analysis at 1:55 a.m. was 7.6 percent oxygen. This reading is similar to the readings of a sealed area. At 2:10 a.m. the reading was 7.8 percent oxygen. The methane reading was .01 percent. The carbon monoxide reading was 180 parts per million. These readings are similar to those of a sealed in area. Perhaps the drill hole drifted into a sealed area," said Stickler.

A survey instrument will be placed at the bottom of the hole to further investigate the area where the hole was drilled. This survey equipment will determine if it ended up in a sealed area or an active area.

"We still have hope and the families are still hopeful," said Stickler. "We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of the rescue workers. These are our primary goals and what we are focused on at this time."

Rob Moore, vice president for Utah American Inc. said things are continuing to move forward. "The miners involved in the rescue have supportive attitudes and are doing an amazing job. The men and women are enthusiastic and hustling. They are anxious and eager to get to the miners. The 8 5/8ths inch hole is moving fairly well."

"We are making good progress. There is a better chance of hitting an open section with the larger hole," said Moore.

A normal oxygen level within a mine is between 20 and 25 percent. Below 15 percent oxygen is difficult to sustain life.

Bob Murray explains to reporters and photographers the layout of the operation at the Crandall Canyon Mine. Photographers have been allowed in the mine and the son and brother of trapped miners have been allowed to go underground to observe the underground rescue attempt.

Saturday afternoon:

The latest briefing on the Crandall Canyon mine cave-in that took place last Monday trapping six miners from Castle Valley took place at about 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon at the mines entrance in Huntington Canyon. Overnight (about 11 p.m. Friday) the crews were able to finish the 8 5/8th inch hole and drilled into a mine cavern that had about five and a half feet of survival space.

Meanwhile crews began pumping compressed air into the mine via the two and a half inch hole that was opened up on Thursday.

Richard Stickler, assistant labor secretary of MSHA, said that since the last briefing (Friday night at 6:30 p.m.) mine and government officials had held two family meetings to give the families important information that has been obtained. Stickler said the clean up on entry one has progressed to approximately 520 feet.

"We have from gone from cross cut 120 to cross cut 124," he said. "We are not progressing as fast as we would like to. It"s a slow, difficult process. We are pushing forward as fast as we can but we are assuring the safety of the rescue workers as we are doing so."

He told the press that after the 8 5/8th inch hole was drilled and secured at about 3 a.m. the drilling crew attempted to signal the trapped miners.

"We left the drill in, and pounded on it, but didn"t get any response from the miners," said Stickler. "At that point we withdrew the drill and by 7 a.m. that was complete. At 8:15 am, we started dropping the video camera down to get an image of the bore hole and tunnel. The hole came in very close underground where we had projected it would enter the mine. When we dropped the camera down, we could could see wire mesh and a five and a half foot void. On the floor there was two feet of rubble mixed with some water."

Mike Glasson, Utah American Energy is responsible for the drilling efforts he also talked with the reporters at the press conference for the first time during the crisis about the operations.

"Miners have been trained to use a certain method of communications when they are trapped," he said. "They are taught to rap three times on any nearby metal. They can use a hammer or a wrench or anything they have." Glasson said drilling crews tried signaling the miners numerous times and even shut down all the equipment around the rig to make sure they could hear any response from below. They heard nothing.

Stickler pointed out the images from the camera were not as good as they would have liked,because it is cylindrical in nature and while the vertical lens (able to see down) worked there were difficulties with the horizontal images because they were being dirtied by water and dirt that were washing over them from the bore hole.

"We withdrew the camera and we are now installing a casing or a liner on the bore hole to protect the camera. We plan to drop the camera back into the mine as soon as this casing is in place. The horizontal lens will look out into the mine tunnel to determine the conditions there. The good thing is that we know the conditions into where we have drilled are much better than where the horizontal crews are clearing the tunnels toward the trapped miners location."

Stickler also pointed out, because of some misconceptions, that the roof did not cave-in but that the walls in the tunnels are what buckled and that is the rubble that the horizontal rescue teams are trying to clear away.

"We are using the large drill hole to the best of our advantage," he said. Stickler said that the vertical video that had been taken had been shown to the families of the miners who are gathered at Canyon View Junior High in Huntington.

"I"d like to point out that all of the family members have been supportive," he stated. "We have liaison and trained individuals and pastors to be responsive to the family. When we showed the family the video and they saw the 5.5 void, they were somewhat encouraged. It has been has a long, drawn out process but they are supporting each other and they are remarkably strong," said Stickler.

Stickler said the teams are still evaluating any new alternatives they have for rescuing the men too. They have considered drilling a larger hole and using a capsule (one that could carry a man) but that would take a great deal of time. However they aren"t ruling anything out. "We are drilling on such a steep incline that we need to see what the advantages would be to do that," he said.

When questioned about a bigger hole Glasson pointed out that any larger bore hole would require a much bigger rig and that could be a problem because of where it would have to be located on the steep mountainside.

Robert Murray CEO of Murray Energy and the parent company of Utah American Energy which is owner of the mine said he can see everyone is doing their best, but that he is disappointed in the speed of the progress being made in rescuing the miners.

"I am disappointed in the pace of the rescue effort," he stated. "We have made no mistakes in our plans but the seismic forces have not settled down and that has slowed the process." Murray pointed out that crews had encountered a "sled" that is used to carry cables in the mine yesterday as they cleared away rubble. He said that is a good sign because that equipment is used behind where the miners would have been working (300-500 feet) and means they are approaching the trapped miners position. "We have 69,000 cubic feet of air moving into the mine but it is impossible to determine how much of it is getting to them, "stated Murray. "One good thing is when the bore hole went down they found good water. If the air is good there, we remain optimistic."

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