Rescuers plan to drill third hole in search of lost Utah coal miners

Monday, August 13, 2007
In this photo released by UtahAmerican Energy Inc. and the Emery County Sheriff Office, workers moved casings Saturday for the 8-5/8 inch rig leading to an underground chamber of the Crandall Canyon Mine northwest of Huntington, Utah. (Capt. Kyle Ekker ~ Emery County Sheriff Office)

HUNTINGTON, Utah -- A video camera lowered into a collapsed coal mine revealed equipment but not the six missing miners, a federal official said Sunday. Officials planned to drill yet another hole in an attempt to locate the men.

Poor lighting allowed the camera to only see about 15 feet into a void at the bottom of the drill hole, far less than the 100 feet it's capable of seeing, said Richard Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Rescuers saw a tool bag, a chain and other items that are normally seen underground in a mine, he said.

"We did not see any sign at all of any of the miners," Stickler said.

The men have not been heard from since the mine was struck by an earthshaking collapse Aug. 6. Rescue leaders said they were proceeding as if the miners were alive.

In this photo released by UtahAmerican Energy Inc. and the Emery County Sheriff's Office, a casing sits at the top of an 1,868-foot shaft leading to an underground chamber of the Crandall Canyon Mine northwest of Huntington, Utah, on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007. Six miners have been trapped deep inside the coal mine since Monday. (AP Photo/Emery County Sheriff Office, Capt. Kyle Ekker)

"Our attitude is we always have to have hope, and our position is that we're hoping and we're praying and it would be a terrible mistake to give up hope until you know for sure," Stickler said.

Another attempt to see farther in the mine will be made with an improved lighting system, Stickler said. In between using the camera, compressed air is being pumped down the hole into the mine.

Stickler announced the findings after a 3-1/2 hour meeting to brief families of the miners.

The drill rig was to be relocated to a new position late Sunday where it will send the drill down 1,414 feet. The previous holes were more than 1,800 feet.

Bob Murray, head of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the mine, said the new hole will target an area that the miners would have gone if air in their original location was bad.

Officials did not immediately estimate how long it will take to complete the new hole. The latest hole took about three days to drill.

The Crandall Canyon mine is built into a mountain in the Manti-La Sal National Forest 140 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Opening off a narrow canyon, the mine's main entrance is large enough for vehicles to enter and drive deep into the mine. At the time of the collapse, the miners were believed to be working at a point 3.4 miles from the entrance.

Rescuers have also been slowly moving horizontally through the mine to try to reach the men.

The horizontal route was blocked about 2,000 feet from the men. As of late Saturday, rubble had been cleared from about 650 feet of that route. Officials said the pace has been slow because of the need to install extensive roof and wall supports with each advance.

Crews working that route had to be withdrawn for a time overnight because of earth movements known as "mountain bumps," officials said.

Stickler would not estimate how long it would take to reach the miners on the horizontal route.

Councilwoman Julie Jones, who was with the families when they were briefed, said they were very hopeful.

Of the miners' relatives, she said, "They are one family."

Mike Marasco, son-in-law of missing miner Kerry Allred, said his family has been sleeping on the floor of the school where families were gathering to identify with their father's discomfort inside the mine.

"It's hard to just sit here. We want to feel what he felt. We've been sleeping on the floor ... it's not even close to being in the mine but it's something."

The miner's son, Cody Allred, 32, looked sad and exhausted. "I've accepted all possibilities," he said.

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