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Editorial: Mining for the facts / After a rescue, a search for answers

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The extraction of the nine miners having been accomplished, to the relief and rejoicing of a whole nation, it is now time to take steps to ensure that such a life-threatening drama not recur. In that regard, state and federal investigations into the events surrounding the Quecreek Mine near-disaster are pertinent and timely.

It may prove difficult to separate making effective recommendations for doing things better in the future from directly or indirectly fixing blame for the accident, or from criticizing aspects of the rescue operation. If such connections exist, they should be established, even if there are financial implications for the parties in such a relentless analysis.

Everyone's goal should be to assure that, to the degree possible in such a dangerous profession, no miners in the future will find themselves in a similar, potentially fatal predicament.

One area that calls for special scrutiny is the reliability of the maps of old mines. No one can argue that they should not be as accurate as possible. At the same time, tracking backward in this area is difficult. Was the old Saxman mine map simply inaccurate, not having benefited in 1957 -- when the mine was closed -- from the more precise technology available now? Or had someone mined a larger area than the map showed, at the time or later?

Profoundly impressed -- as all observers were -- by the skill, ingenuity and intense dedication demonstrated in the rescue operation, we still believe it would be useful to review the operation to determine what was done well and what could have been done better.

For example, could the contingency planning for such an accident be improved? Although they didn't prevent the rescue of these miners, delays in reaching the trapped men may suggest the need in the future for more plentiful and accessible drill bits and other equipment.

The Quecreek rescue was -- and will remain, whatever the results of inquiries -- a triumph of skill and courage that reflects well on both the rescuers and those they saved. It is now important that the investigations be carried out with equal dedication, to reduce as much as possible the chances of potential tragedies.

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