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Front Page » August 9, 2007 » Local News » Rescue, MSHA Teams Battle Mountain to Locate Miners
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Rescue, MSHA Teams Battle Mountain to Locate Miners

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A crew erects equipment to improve communications in Huntington Canyon during rescue efforts.

The residents of Carbon and Emery counties are still waiting for word on the condition of miners trapped in Genwal coal mine near Huntington since Monday morning.

At approximately 3:47 a.m. on Aug. 6, a call came into the Emery County Sheriff's Office dispatch center reporting that an earthquake had occurred and the epicenter was in the vicinity of the UtahAmerican Energy Inc. mining operation in Crandall Canyon.

At approximately 3:51 a.m., Crandall Canyon reported damage at the mine, which turned out to be a cave-in trapping six workers underground.

An apparent dispute surfaced almost immediatelly between the coal company and University of Utah as to whether the collapse of the mine caused the seismic activity or an earthquake triggered the process.

But the matter was of little concern to rescue teams on Monday and Tuesday as the members tried to figure out ways to get to the miners.

The rescue approach of getting drilling rigs over the top of the section of the mine where the workers are believed to be trapped was put into action Monday as bulldozers cut roads into the area. In addition, a helicopter brought in a smaller drill rig to start a hole that could be used to contact the miners and provide supplies to the trapped underground workers.

The road will allow a large rig into the area to bore a bigger hole to reach the section of mine where the men are thought to be trapped.

At the same time, questions about safety in the mine were constantly raised in press conferences conducted almost every two hours at the command center in Huntington Canyon.

Reports carried by media outlets have indicated that the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued 1,100 written MSHA regulation violations to Crandall Canyon in the last 12 years.

During a press conference on Tuesday, assistant labor department secretary Richard Stickler explained that the number of MSHA violations a mine has received can be skewed by the operation's size and several different factors.

"Some mines might have 700 violations a year, while others might only have 40 to 50," said Stickler. "That could be a function of a more dangerous mine or it could be that the one with 40 to 50 is a small mine with an inspector that is only there part of the time while the one with 700 is a mine with two or three full time inspectors. This mine actually has an accident frequency rate 50 percent less than what the national average is."

A Utah Highway Patrol Trooper blocks the bridge to the Genwal mine.

A second matter coming under question involved what type of mining was being done at Candall Canyon.

There are a number of methods to back out of a mine and remove the last bits of coal. One method is retreat mining, which is considered the most dangerous process in some quarters.

Several news reports indicated that retreat mining was the method of coal extraction that was taking place at Crandall Canyon. But the reports have not been confirmed.

Rescue teams tried overnight on Tuesday to use alternate tunnels to reach the six men, but debris halted the attempt.

The drilling rig started working on the top of the mountain late Tuesday and Stickler said it would take at least three days to reach the miners. On Wednesday, reports indicated that the rig had nearly reached the 500 foot mark, leaving about 1,000 feet of rock to drill through.

The miners' families have been moved to Canyon View Junior High and the building is secured by Emery deputies.

At press time, the names of the trapped miners had not been officially released, But the Sun Advocate learned on Tuesday from the Mexican consulate and a Mexico City newspaper that three of the men are Mexican nationals.

Four men who escaped from the mine on Monday have been talking with officials about the incident. Little information has been released to the media.

The area around the mine has been secured since the collapse. But on Wednesday, a few reporters were allowed to enter the area and venture close to the mine portal.

Shocked by the tragedy, Castle Valley residents have volunteered assistance and religious services have been conducted, including a Wednesday night prayer vigil at Price Chapel. On Thursday at 11 a.m., Notre Dame Catholic Church will host a Mass led by Bishop Wester of Salt Lake at Mission San Rafael near Huntington. On Sunday, Liberty Faith Fellowship in Price will devote an entire service to the tragic situation.

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