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Mine accident investigation takes shape

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Surviving miner develops slight fever.

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. -- As the investigation into the Sago Mine disaster took shape Monday, the best hope for firsthand details about the explosion and its aftermath lay in critical condition, fighting a fever.

Doctors treating sole survivor Randal McCloy Jr. declined to speculate on the extent of any brain damage the 26-year-old suffered in the tragedy that killed 12 fellow coal miners.

But physicians said McCloy's brain stem appeared to be normal, and that a fever is common for patients in intensive care. McCloy was breathing on his own, although he remained connected to a ventilator as a precaution, and was responding to stimuli, doctors said.

Three more families held funerals Monday for the miners.

Federal and state mine safety officials pledged to hold joint public hearings on the accident. Meanwhile, Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., called for hearings into coal mine safety.

Byrd said federal mine safety officials would be called to testify before a Senate subcommittee that would hold hearings into the disaster beginning Jan. 19.

"It's time for the decisions affecting America's miners to be made with their best interests at heart. That should be the legacy of the Sago miners."

Rockefeller said Congress had not held full oversight hearings into the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration since 2001.

Among the questions investigators are sure to ask: Could the trapped miners have walked out, instead of following their training and waiting for a rescue that arrived too late?

Another focus will be the miscommunication that led to the mistaken belief that 12 of the trapped miners had been rescued alive. That sparked a celebration at a nearby church that was halted three hours later by the devastating news of their deaths.

"I am asking for that because I have witnessed firsthand the unbelievable human suffering that comes from miscommunication," Manchin said.

So far, medical examiners have completed autopsies on the miners. State Department of Health and Human Resources spokesman John Law confirmed Monday that the miners died from carbon monoxide intoxication.

Drillers finished two ventilation holes and worked on a substantially larger hole.

State officials have not started interviewing witnesses and said they did not know when they would begin.

"We don't want to make mistakes," said Terry Farley, an administrator at the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. "However long it takes, we want to get it right."

Also Monday, Manchin named J. Davitt McAteer, who oversaw the federal MSHA during the Clinton administration, to serve as his consultant, oversee the work of state and federal investigators, and issue a report on the disaster by July 1.

"We will pursue every lead," McAteer said. "We will follow every avenue of inquiry. We will take every step necessary to find the problems and to fix those problems."

Associated Press writers Daniel Lovering in Morgantown and Sonja Barisic and Lawrence Messina in Charleston contributed to this report.

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