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Front Page » August 21, 2007 » Local News » Fatal collapse halts underground mine rescue effort
Published 2,972 days ago

Fatal collapse halts underground mine rescue effort

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Sun Advocate reporter

Castleview hospital CEO Jeff Manley reports the first fatality as a result of the Aug. 16 Crandall Canyon Mine collapse during the evenings second press conference. Manley's update was followed by Price City Mayor Joe Piccolo and UtahAmerican Energy Human Resource director Mike Knowles.

The underground rescue effort at Crandall Canyon has been suspended indefinitely following a fatal collapse on Aug. 16. The collapse claimed three lives and injured six rescue workers.

Drilling activity has continued. But following the breakthrough of a fourth hole on Aug. 18, United States Mine Safety and Health officials reported that oxygen levels were not sufficient to sustain human life.

On Aug. 19, UtahAmerican and Murray Energy representatives indicated that hope is waning and, while teams have started drilling a fifth hole, the rescue effort could be coming to an end.

"It's likely that these miners may not be found," stated Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy during a Sunday press conference.

The families of the six trapped miners approached the media later on Sunday and voiced disappointment with the rescue efforts.

In a press statement, Sonny Olsen expressed the families' desire for drilling a hole large enough to send a rescue capsule down into the mine.

"We feel that they have given up," stated Olsen, who represented the miner's families.

"This is a devastating blow in what has already been a tragic situation," pointed out Price Mayor Joe Piccolo during an press conference at Castleview Hospital on Aug. 16. "But I can tell you that the mood within that hospital is a hopeful one. There are families in there praying for their fathers and brothers. If they can stay hopeful, then so can we."

Castleview received six of the injured rescue workers. One victim was pronounced dead at the Price hospital and one injured rescuer was airlifted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. Three miners were treated and released, according to Castleview Chief Executive Officer Jeff Manley.

The second fatality was later confirmed by representatives at Utah Valley medical facility.

Manley was the first official to speak with the media last Thursday night. While the chief executive explained that Castleview personnel train for mining emergencies, Manley indicated the more serious head trauma cases would be flown to Utah Valley or the University of Utah's medical treatment facility.

The three deceased rescuers have been identified as MSHA roof control specialist Gary Jensen and Castle Country coal miners Brandon Kimber and Dale Black.

Several Utah officials indicated that they did not think tunneling should continue unless the rescuers' safety can be bolstered.

Gov. Jon Huntsman pointed out that, while continuing the underground tunneling is up to MSHA, he would not like to watch the effort continue unless the federal agency can ensure it can be done safely.

In addition, Huntsman said a state sanctioned investigation will parallel the federal inquiry into the disaster.

The toll of this second collapse has exacerbated the emotional state of many residents within the Castle Valley community.

"I hate it. It's so scary to send my husband to work everyday since the collapse," said Marcia Hunt. "It is the most stressful thing I have ever gone through, but what can I do? It's his job and, besides that, he really cares about those six trapped men. He wants to do everything he can to help."

Gabe Hunt is an employee of UtahAmerican at the company's Westridge facility and lives in East Carbon City. He has worked several shifts at the Crandall Canyon mine, providing support since the rescue effort began.

Gabe Hunt was also in the mine at the time of the second collapse.

"When I heard of the mine collapse last night, I had a full-blown panic attack," said Marcia Hunt during an interview Friday. "I knew he was in the mine, but I had no idea whether or not he was one of the injured miners. He couldn't get a hold of me until almost 10 p.m."

According to the young wife, Gabe Hunt was in the section where miners were rock-cropping approximately 2,000 feet away from where the collapse occurred. She reported that he felt the mine "bounce."

The bounce is being called a 1.6 seismographic event by seismologists at the University of Utah. MSHA official Richard Stickler has confirmed 23 "mountain bumps" since the Aug. 6 event which registered 3.9 on the Richter scale.

Due to the continuing seismic activity, Stickler has stated that the existing conditions are too dangerous to send rescuers into Crandall Canyon coal mine.

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