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Front Page » August 28, 2007 » Local News » Company idles Tower as robot enters Crandall Canyon
Published 2,613 days ago

Company idles Tower as robot enters Crandall Canyon


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By C.J. MCMANUS
Sun Advocate reporter


Dr. Robin Murphy explains the purpose and functionality of the robot which is to enter the Crandall Canyon Mine. The robot will be able to travel approximately 1000 feet once it enters the mine. Murphy reported that gathering any new information with the $100,000 device will be a long shot.

One hundred seventy coal miners were laid off during the weekend as UtahAmerican reported that the Tower division of the company's Utah operation will undergo safety modification.

During a Sunday press conference at the Crandall Canyon command post, United States Mine Safety and Health Administration officials also announced that a seventh hole will be drilled from the mountain's surface and a state of the art robot will be inserted into the mine in furtherance of the continuing rescue effort.

According to MSHA spokesperson Jack Kuzar, the safety administration has been working on developing a robot to search the mine since day one of the disaster on Aug. 6.

The MSHA spokesperson reported that the one of a kind, dual camera robot is a long shot, but the families of the six trapped miners deserve to have all avenues explored.

Dr. Robin Murphy, director of robot assisted search and rescue at the University of South Florida, detailed the robots specs for the media.

"This robot will travel though 2000 feet of either the number three or four drill holes," explained Murphy during the Sunday conference. "It will then be able to travel approximately 1000 feet once within the mine."

Murphy has been instrumental in the robot's design and the electronic device's institution in the Utah mine. She reported that the robot's chances within the mine are slim, but worth trying.

"The Crandall Canyon mine is one of the most challenging situations I have ever seen and, frankly, I give us less than a 50 percent chance of coming up with any additional information. But we have to try," said the director of robot assisted search and rescue.

Murphy indicated that the robot is equipped with two cameras, one primarily for driving the vehicle and one for searching the mine.

According to the robot assisted search and rescue director, the camera will give off 200 watts of light and should provide operators with approximately 50 feet of viewing distance.

Challenges the robot could face include:

•Getting stuck in the drill holes.

The robot will be inserted in either the number three or four holes, both of which are without casing.

According to Murphy, the robot had to be at least eight inches wide to give the electronic device the necessary weight, strength and waterproof exterior to even attempt the difficult underground conditions.

Because the bore openings are only eight and seven-eights inches wide, the robot could become stuck in the holes.

Murphy further reported that if the robot happens to get stuck, control crews will have no way to get it out.

•Because three and four are uncased holes, there is the problem of dirt and rocks damaging the robot on its way into the mine.

•The chain link mesh on the roof of the mine could impede the robot's entry.

According to Murphy the mesh will almost certainly impede withdrawing the robot from the mine.

The electronic device will relay information to the surface in real time so any information that is gathered by the on board cameras will be saved to hard drive regardless of the fate of the device.

•The robot could tip over.

According to Murphy, if the robot trips over, it would be very difficult for control operators to right the device.

She did however report that the device is very sturdy, the top mounted camera only weighs six pounds and the base weighs over 60. According to Murphy the robot could reach over 45 degrees before it tipped over.

The technology that developed the robot was originated in Canada and MSHA along with Murphy have been working with Inuktun Services, a robotics company who's name literally means "in the service of humans." The $100,000 machine is on loan to the safety effort from Inuktun and will only require payment if it is destroyed in the information seeking endeavor.

Robyn Murphy ascends from the command post at the Crandall Canyon Mine with some of her equipment. Murphy told news outlets about the robot that is being used to explore the mine in areas where holes have been drilled and it is suspected that the miners involved in the incident may be located.

Following Murphy's presentation UtahAmerican CEO Robert Murray addressed the media detailing the layoffs that took place over the weekend.

"Due to the depth of the workings at the Tower mine and the unforeseen seismic events at the Crandall Canyon mine. I feel compelled to take further steps at the Tower Mine to ensure the safety of my miners by having engineering studies done on the longwall," stated Murray.

According to Murray, the company engaged eight mining experts along with 10 engineering firms to research the safety of the local mines.

Per the experts' recommendations and Murray's personal wishes, Tower will undergo significant modification.

The changes will include changes to the longwall shields by installing "sprags" that require that the shields be removed from the mine, said the chief executive officer.

Also, Murray plans to make major changes to the longwall.

"We wanted to develop a fiber-optic camera system to be installed on the sheer whereby the longwall could be operated from hundreds of feet away. In that regard ,we have been working with Joy Manufacturing and two weeks ago we told them that we needed to accelerate this effort," commented Murray.

Murray further reported that the effort on the longwall could only take two weeks to gain approval from MSHA once developed.

According to Murray all 170 miners have been given the option to work within one of his mines in Illinois or Ohio. He reported that they will work three weeks on and then have one week off. They will be given room and board if they choose to work in one of these mines.

"Not one man will be laid off if they choose to take one of these positions," said Murray.

The UtahAmerican CEO reported that some men had been moved from Tower to Murray's Westridge mine and that the management of Tower and Westridge had made the decision on which employees would keep their jobs and which would be laid off. According to Murray, the Westridge employee count has risen by 12.

Rescue workers at Crandall Canyon will also begin drilling a seventh hole to further seek any sign of the trapped miners.

While Murray would not speak on a disagreement between him and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, many within the local community feel that this issue is central to the events of recent days.

"On Aug. 17, I told Richard Stickler that mountain is alive and I'm closing it. That's an evil mountain," responded Murray when asked if he still plans to seal the mine portal at Crandall Canyon.

Representatives from the United Mine Workers of America would like to see a different stance take place at Crandall Canyon.

According to UMWA District 22 international representative David Maggio, "the miners and families at Crandall Canyon have given the UMWA permission to represent them concerning the rescue effort at the mine. All we are asking for is an independent bi-partisan investigation of this tragedy. How can MSHA investigate MSHA fairly? We only want an independent investigation."



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