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It all looks good to miners, as two more are released from hospital

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As he stood with his fellow miners in the hot sun yesterday at a news conference, Harry Blaine Mayhugh clutched his wife's right hand. Every so often Mayhugh, 31, of Meyersdale, would wrap his left arm around her waist, pulling her tight.

Thomas Foy waves to the waiting reporters at the start of a news conference he and four other rescued miners gave outside Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown yesterday. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

After 78 hours trapped underground with only a sandwich and sodas to share among nine men, it was indeed good to be with family, even if it meant facing a phalanx of news media in a parking lot at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.

"I came today to thank everybody out there," said John Unger, 52, of Hollsopple, who was released from the hospital a short time later. "I thank our Lord God Almighty."

Also released yesterday was Thomas Foy, 52, of Berlin, who is Mayhugh's father-in-law.

Of the others trapped in the Quecreek Mine in Sipesville from 9:30 p.m. Thursday until early Sunday morning only Randy Fogle, 43, of Garrett, remains hospitalized. He is expected to be released as early as today.

In addition to Mayhugh, Foy, Unger and Fogle, the others were John Phillippi, 36, of Jenner; Ronald Hileman, 49, of Gray; Dennis J. Hall Jr., 49, of Johnstown; Robert Pugh, 50, of Stoystown; and Mark Popernack, 41, of Somerset,

Hall, who was among the five miners to speak at the news conference, is credited with having the foresight and instincts to grab a mine phone and warn another crew of nine miners to evacuate. Without his warning, those men could have died.

It was also Hall who provided the men with their only meal during the three-day ordeal. Hall's lunch pail, which was waterproof, survived the flooding of the mine.

Inside was one corned beef sandwich and one Pepsi.

The nine men shared both, along with a couple of Mountain Dews that Foy found.

The sugar in the pop, they figured, would keep them going.

It did -- along with grit, determination and a will to live.

They had low points, Foy said, particularly in the early hours when the water was everywhere and their efforts to break through another wall failed.

"We tried our damnedest," he said.

Fogel said the men "talked about everything" in the days they were trapped, but he shared a group laugh when asked to be more specific.

"Hey, we can't say everything," Mayhugh called out.

Among those at the news conference, only Hall said he would go back to mining.

"I've been mining for 30 years," he said. "This is something that happened. It'll probably never happen again."

Others weren't as eager.

"I have my doubts," Foy said. "I have 30 years in. It's just too much. I got seven grandkids. I want to see them grow up."

Foy and Hall both said, though, it's imperative that the investigation into the accident determine why it occurred and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

"Somebody screwed up down the line," Foy said. "We don't know who, but we're going to find out."

John Weir, a spokesman for Black Wolf Mining Co., which owns Quecreek Mine, said he had met with some of the miners and was attempting to reach the others.

"The company wants to sit down with them," he said

It's likely, though, that those miners who opt not to go back underground will be offered work by Black Wolf -- above the ground -- or possibly with PBS Coals Inc., the Friedens, Somerset County-based coal company that hired Black Wolf to mine the seam at Quecreek, according to Timothy Phillips, marketing manager for PBS Coals.

"Everything will be done. If Black Wolf can't, I know we would look into what we could do," Phillips said. "I don't think they want to do anything to add to the burden of these men."

Staff writer Tom Gibb contributed to this report.

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