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Front Page » August 28, 2007 » Opinion » The Wasatch Behind: Dealing with the tragedy of our area
Published 2,424 days ago

The Wasatch Behind: Dealing with the tragedy of our area


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By TOM MCCOURT
Sun Advocate Columnist

As a community and a nation, we have watched events unfold at the Crandall Canyon Mine with horror, sympathy, and deep sorrow. Our hearts go out to the families of the trapped miners and the rescue workers who were killed and injured while trying to get to them. As Governor Huntsman has said, this has gone from a tragedy to a catastrophe.

It seems that in our modern world we are never prepared for disasters of this magnitude. We always expect that science and technology will protect us, save us, or find a way to rescue us. We don't expect space shuttles to burn up on re-entry, highway bridges to fail, or mines to collapse. But those things happen and people are injured and killed.

There is a step-by-step process people go through when dealing with tragedy in their lives. Whole communities go through these steps collectively, as did New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. First comes shock, then grief, despair, and anger. And finally, with time, comes acceptance, reconciliation, and the resolve to move on. Sadly, our community is in the anger stage right now. People are tired, overcome by emotion, and some want to strike out.

It is easy to understand the plight of the families. The unthinkable has happened. How do you abandon hope? How do you go on without ever knowing? How can you leave a loved one inside the mountain?

It is easy to understand the plight of the rescue workers. There is a code of honor among miners that trapped men will never be abandoned. And yet, three of those rescue workers gave their lives in the attempt and another three were badly injured. There are men willing to go back and try again, but can we ask that of them? Should it even be considered? With conditions in the mine so terribly dangerous, is it right to ask other families to risk their husbands and fathers in an attempt to recover the trapped miners?

And it is easy to understand the plight of the mine company. Data from the bore holes indicate that any further attempts will be a recovery operation and not a rescue. In fact, there is nothing to indicate that the six miners survived the initial cave-in. Where are they in the mine? And are they covered with tons of rubble? Could rescuers find them if they did break through into one of the few areas with "survivable space" and "survivable air?" How do you ask men to go back in there when your best efforts have failed to hold the ribs and the roof? Will future attempts only multiply the tragedy? Is it really feasible to drill a large hole and send down a capsule? Without knowing where the men are, where would you drill that big hole? And who would you send down that 2000-foot shaft? What would be his chances of survival? Are the risks worth the extremely small chance for success?

The Mine Safety and Health Administration people have problems, too. They approved the mine plan and the plans for the mine rescue. They have been on site, with supervisory and veto power since the first incident. One of their people was killed and another seriously injured in the rescue attempt. They will be in for a great deal of scrutiny and criticism in the weeks and months to come.

And sadly, it is obvious that some will try to profit from this tragedy. Lawyers are circling like sharks and politicians are preening in front of the cameras. The governor is calling for "new" legislation and has put together a commission to study the matter.

It is my hope, and my prayer, that this tragedy will not divide our community into opposing factions. We are all family here. This is not a union verses non-union issue, or a Democrat verses Republican issue. It is not a big, evil corporation against poor, little guy miners either. We are not slaves in the mines. We choose to work there, in spite of the risks. Thank God there are still companies who offer that chance for employment.

When I was a little boy, one of my friends drowned in the Colorado River and his body was never found. When I was very sad about it, my grandmother told me that it really didn't matter. My friend wasn't with that body anymore. He was in heaven, and God would give him a new body on the day of resurrection. We could toss flowers in the river to remember him, and even put up a marker, but Glen Canyon would always be his grave site.

Wouldn't it be nice if all grave sites were as pretty as Lake Powell, or Huntington Canyon?


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