MSHA Halts Mine Rescue Efforts at Crandall Canyon
A tragic month that Castle Valley will never forget and a rescue effort that proved fatal and fruitless came to a close on Aug. 31.
During an evening press conference last Friday, United States Mine Safety and Health Administration official Rich Kulczewski reported to the media after meeting with the trapped miners' families that all rescue efforts at Crandall Canyon had been exhausted and drilling would cease.
Reporting from all MSHA officials has been uniform.
"We have exhausted all known options in our attempt to reach these miners," said MSHA administrator Richard Stickler.
Brandon Phillips, Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Carlos Payan, Manuel Sanchez and Luis Hernandez have been trapped in the Crandall Canyon mine for 32 days following the initial collapse on Aug. 6.
Brandon Kimber, Dale Black and Gary Jensen were killed and six individuals were injured on Aug. 16 while attempting to re-enter Crandall Canyon and rescue the trapped men.
Since the second collapse, all efforts to rescue the six men have taken place from above ground as MSHA determined that continuing the attempts to re-enter the mine was too dangerous. Mine employees, safety officials and drilling experts bored seven holes attempting to find a survivable space for the miners.
As a last ditch effort, MSHA officials and Robin Murphy, a robotics specialist from the University of South Florida, attempted repeatedly to lower an electronic device and camera into the mine via the previously drilled boreholes.
The robot carrying the camera came close to the mark several times, but mud and debris rendered the electronic device primarily ineffective.
As rescue efforts have been halted at the Crandall Canyon coal mine site, investigations and hearings into the disaster at the federal level are just beginning.
In a Sept. 5 press release, Sen. Bob Bennett listed several questions he planned to submit during a U.S. Senate appropriations sub-committee hearing later that day.
The press release indicated that the questions would be specifically for MSHA's Richard Stickler.
The questions ranged from whether the safety administration has adequate funding to the time MSHA took to gather intelligence concerning the Crandall Canyon coal mine collapse.
"In our meeting at the site the day after the initial collapse, we were informed that rescue operations would not occur inside the mine until the ongoing seismic activity had ceased. Following that meeting, the 'bumps' continued," pointed out one of Bennett's question. "Nine days later, I received the news that three rescuers were killed - one of which was an MSHA employee - and six injured. What changed that led you to determine that it was safe to put rescuers into the mine? Who makes those decisions and what seismic expertise, if any, do these individuals have?"
MSHA plans to conduct an investigation into the tragic events at Crandall Canyon. But the United Mine Workers of America continues to pressure government officials for an independent investigation into the disasters.
"All we are asking for is a bi-partisan independent investigation," said UMWA District 22 International representative David Maggio in an earlier interview.
Representatives from UtahAmerican Energy, including executive officer Robert Murray were absent from the Aug. 31 press conference.
However, Murray previously reported his intention to permanently seal the Crandall Canyon coal mine, calling the mountain "evil."