(UtahAmerican Engergy, Inc. ~ Associated Press)
The void found by a camera lowered into a new hole showed an intact ceiling over 2 feet of rubble mixed with water, said Richard Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"We do have a 5-1/2-foot void. We have not lost the space where the miners could be located," he said.
The nearly 9-inch-wide hole reached the void in the early morning darkness. Rescuers quickly shut down the drill rig and their compressors -- anything that could drown out signs of life from down below -- and rapped again and again on the drill steel in an attempt to contact the miners. Trapped miners, if they can hear the signal, are trained to respond in kind with tools or rocks. These signals, however, were met with silence.
"It was heartbreaking," said mine geologist Mike Glasson, who was on the mountain at the time. "If they're alive and well and didn't respond ... perhaps they're injured. I don't know.
"We did not lose confidence in what we are doing up there," he added "Not one bit."
The camera encountered trouble because 10 gallons of groundwater a minute were flowing down the hole into the vast space below, Stickler said. The water, not enough to affect any survivors below, blurred one of the camera's lenses.
Nonetheless, he said, "We found survivable space."
The camera was withdrawn so a steel casing could be inserted in the well to protect the camera from the water. Getting the casing in and the camera back down was not expected to be completed until late Saturday night, Glasson said.
A smaller hole 2-1/2 inches wide that was drilled into the mine earlier was being used to pump oxygen into the void. Sampling of air in that hole had found oxygen levels too low for survival.
The two holes are 130 feet apart. The void is 1,868 feet below the drill rigs.
The men were more than three miles inside the remote mine at the time of the thunderous collapse Monday. Efforts to reach them through the horizontal main tunnels have been slowed by fallen rock and by ground movements that require extensive installation of roof and wall supports to keep rescuers safe.
Bob Murray, head of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the mine, said workers clearing away rubble had progressed 650 feet into a 2,000-foot tunnel that could lead to the men.
"The rescue effort itself, I am very disappointed at our pace," Murray said, asserting, however, that no mistakes had been made.
Authorities have said it could take about a week to reach the miners through the tunnels.