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Rescue in 1977 mine flood in Schuylkill County offered reason for hope

Sunday, July 28, 2002

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

QUECREEK, Pa -- For the first 15 hours after millions of gallons of water flooded Quecreek Mine, rescue officials drew hope from the periodic tapping on the drill they sank to the chamber where nine miners were trapped.

Three taps were answered by three taps -- the universal signal of trapped miners.

After the tapping stopped at midday Thursday, rescue workers drew hope from a March 1977 flood in a mine in Schuylkill County's hard coal region. It killed nine men but left one alive, to be rescued five days later.

Ronald Adley, 37, walked under his own power from Kocher Coal Co.'s Porter Tunnel Mine near Tower City. It would take cancer -- not a mine accident -- to kill him 18 years later, brother Robert Adley of Grantville, Dauphin County, said yesterday.

"The good Lord was with him," said Robert Adley, five years his brother's junior.

Before the nine men in Quecreek Mine were found alive last last night, Gov. Mark Schweiker told a press conference that, from above ground, the condition of the miners was "probably an unanswerable question," but the governor and David Hess, secretary of environmental protection, continued to cite Porter Tunnel as their reason for hope.

There, workers had been drilling test holes, looking for remaining water from abandoned mines.

As the Porter Tunnel miners drilled and later dynamited, water burst through a mine wall, flooding stretches of the mine, but not leaving rescuers with the complications of Quecreek, where more than a mile of passageway was inundated and rescuers had to drill down 240 feet.

A Mine Safety and Health Administration document says 90 Porter Tunnel miners fled to safety, but 10 others were trapped. Adley, luckily, was washed above the waterline.

"He was able to get air," his brother said.

It was his tapping that told rescuers Adley was alive.

Rescuers who got to him had to tunnel their way through rock and debris.

"They took him to the hospital, and he was OK," Robert Adley said.

But Ronald Adley was done with mining.

"He got a job in construction," the younger Adley said. "After that, he didn't want to go back in the mine."

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